Tuesday, 10 February 2015
No Cure For Paedophiles
Any day now, two convicted paedophiles will slip quietly into a psychiatrist's consulting rooms and submit themselves to an experiment which could revolutionise the way Britain deals with child sex offenders.
Such is the sensitivity of this highly controversial government trial that we are not permitted to know the identities of these guinea pigs, nor even the vaguest details about their crimes.
Assuming that they are males - like the vast majority of the 5,000-plus paedophiles in our jails - they will be given, via injection or tablet, a powerful drug to reduce their sex-drive to levels found in pre-pubescent boys.
The hope is that by curtailing their physical ability to sexually assault children, their perverted and predatory instincts will also be suppressed.
At a time when child sex offences are growing at an alarming rate, it is tempting to accept the view that every possible deterrent deserves to be explored.
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And yet, having followed the progress of experiments with so-called chemical castration in the other parts of Europe and the United States, I fear this latest initiative, reported over the weekend, is not only doomed to failure, but could have quite disastrous consequences.
The decision to 'emasculate' convicted child sex criminals with drugs was taken by John Reid, during his last few months as Home Secretary. If he intended to cement his tough-on-crime image before leaving office, then the move had the desired effect.
Reading behind those 'Castrate 'em!' banner headlines, however, the prisoners' rights lobby were pleasantly reassured.
The treatment (either by Androcur, a pill which counteracts testosterone, or Leuprorelin, an injection which 'switches off' the pituitary gland that produces the hormone) would be administered on a strictly voluntary basis. Moreover, it would be stopped immediately on the offender's request.
The use of powerful drugs to quell sexual urges is nothing new, of course. It dates back to Nazi Germany, whose scientists eventually abandoned this painless, easily reversible, punishment in favour of an altogether more permanent solution: compulsory castration by scalpel.
According to many leading child sex abuse psychologists I have spoken to, however, Hitler's sinister doctors over-looked one crucial factor, which continues to be ignored or misunderstood today.
It is that simply depriving a serial sexual predator of the most obvious means of carrying out an assault is almost never enough to deter him.
Despite lacking the ability to gain an erection, he will still experience all the disturbing fantasies and compulsions which drive him to prey on children, and feel impelled to act on them.
Indeed, compounded by his sense of frustration, this often makes the paedophile even more dangerous than before.
The complexities were explained to me by veteran child sex expert Ray Wire, who has helped police to get inside the minds of evil child killers such as Fred and Rosemary West and Robert Black.
"In the great majority of cases, castration alone - by whatever means - simply isn't effective in curbing a paedophile's behaviour, because controlling high sexual drive is only part of the problem," he says.
"These men are not simply an out-of-control penis. There are other, deep-seated issues which drive them, such as terrible anger and misguided self-righteousness.
"Abhorrent as it sounds, many are actually convinced they really love children, and that what they are doing is right. No chemical is going to alter these feelings, and the Home Office needs to understand that from the outset."
As a reminder of how experiments with castration can go horribly wrong, Mr Wire recalls the disturbing case of 'Tom', a former Yorkshire miner who abused more than 30 children in a reign of terror spanning 40 years.
In 1993, he went on television to plead for the right to be surgically castrated, and later paid £1,200 for the operation.
At the time, the story seemed almost uplifting: proof that even the most wretched paedophile was not beyond redemption. If anyone had bothered to chart Tom's progress, however, they would have taken a different view.
For soon after his high-profile emasculation, Mr Wire was called to Milton Keynes, where police had discovered the miner with a boy of ten, whom he had spirited away from his family in London.
"He may not have been able to have sex any more, but he claimed to have found pure love with the child," Mr Wire recalls. "Make of that what you will."
The quest for a 'cure' for child sex attackers is littered with such salutary episodes - and yet, in early 2005, I was in Paris to watch the French government embark on an experiment even more radical than John Reid's.
Faced with an explosion of paedophilic offences which has seen the numbers in jail for child sex crimes soar to 25 per cent of the entire prison population, the then Justice Minister Dominique Perben announced that 48 offenders would be removed from the penal system.
Rather than being incarcerated or placed on probation, they would agree to undergo a course of chemical castration. Their behaviour would be carefully monitored and, assuming the results were positive, hundreds more would be freed on licence.
At a psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Paris, I interviewed one of the first volunteers, a softly spoken electrician, aged 46, from a well-to-do family.
He had been abusing children for 16 years, and might have continued to do so if two victims, who never forgot how he violated them, had not reported him when they reached the age of 20.
Ordinarily, he would have been in preventative custody, but had won his freedom by agreeing to have regular injections of a chemical sex-drive cosh.
His supervising psychiatrist, the eminent Dr Bernard Cordier, seemed pleased with his 'progress'.
Yet during our talk, he admitted eerily that he still harboured sick fantasies about debasing and defiling small children, and still sometimes prowled his old haunts, "looking but not touching" - or so he claimed.
Incredibly, no one was responsible for monitoring his movements, and there were no restrictions on him.
Despite the obvious perils, the great French experiment was permitted to carry on unchecked for a further 18 months. Then, last summer, it sparked one of the most embarrassing judicial scandals in recent French history and was hastily reversed.
The disaster that many less liberal Gallic psychologists and politicians had long predicted came when Francis Evrard, a 61-year- old recidivist pervert, showed how frighteningly easy it is for anyone with a modicum of cunning to buck the system.
Evrard had been jailed for 18 years for a catalogue of terrible crimes. Towards the end of his sentence, however, he complained to the prison doctor - who had no idea he was a child molester - that he was suffering erectile dysfunction. Incredibly, he was prescribed Viagra.
A few months later, Evrard was released from prison on condition that he underwent treatment to reduce his sex drive. But he used the Viagra to counteract the drugs and boost his testosterone, then kidnapped and raped a five-year-old boy.
Appalled by a case that has become a cause celebre for France's hard-line politicians, President Nicolas Sarkozy is now leading a sharp about-turn in France's policy towards sex offenders.
Instead of releasing offenders early, he is building a special prison-hospital in which the most ruthless can be held even after completing their sentences, until they can demonstrate that they are safe to return to the community.
The Home Office insists that Britain's guinea pigs will be subjected to far greater scrutiny, and promises they will not be able to volunteer for treatment in return for early parole or shorter sentences.
This, at least, is comforting news. But wouldn't our children be infinitely safer if, instead of dabbling with this failed ideology, the Government accepted that some people are simply beyond redemption?
By DAVID JONES