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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 January, 2005, 11:59 GMT
French test 'chemical castration'
By John Laurenson
Paris

Children in shadow
France is conducting a pilot study into the treatment
Doctors in France have started giving chemical treatment to 48 repeat sex offenders to see if it will stop them attacking again.

All the men, who have finished prison terms for sex crimes, are volunteers.

The government hopes the treatment, which is already available in Sweden, Germany, Denmark and the US will help stem the increase in sex crimes.

The number of people sent to prison in France for sex offences has multiplied by seven over the past 20 years.

Now almost a quarter of male detainees in French jails - or 8,200 people - are sex offenders and nearly three-quarters of those have raped children.

The statistics are so bad, the government had to do something.

Injections

French Justice Minister, Dominic Perben, told French radio that experimenting with chemical treatment to curb sex crime had never been tried in France before.

But he said if it works it could, like psychological treatment, be something sex offenders are forced to undergo in the future.

We'll only really start to make progress against sex crime when we find out what's going on in the heads of different categories of sex offender
Isabelle Le Bourgeois,
psychologist

The minister says injections of the prostate cancer drug leuproreline and the breast cancer tablet cyproterone dampen the sex drive and inhibit erections.

The effect wears off when the treatmentstops so this is not "chemical castration" but, to usethe minister's phrase, "a chemical straightjacket".

Madelaine Perret, vice-president of the Paris section of the prisoner help organisation Farapej, says she has met a number of sex offenders during her 15 years as a prison visitor and is not surprised that some might volunteer for treatment.

"One prisoner I used to visit said to me 'Madame,you can't imagine the strength of the impulse that some of us men feel to get close to little boys and commit acts that are completely forbidden'.

"He said he was glad to have been arrested and happy to be in prison. Because there were no young boys, there was no temptation and so it was in prison that he felt free.

"He was down for a long sentence but was frightened about offending again when he was finally released.

"He said 'I want treatment! I want them to put a stop to these impulses that push me, in spite of myself, to commit what I know are crimes!'"

Understanding

Some psychologists, though, are worried about the experiment.

The knowledge that chemical treatment exists might make some offenders think they are less responsible for their behaviour, reasoning that if you can take drugs to stop it, the sexual assault of children becomes less a vile act of evil men and more the result of a medical condition.

The psychologist and Catholic prison chaplain, Isabelle Le Bourgeois, has another objection. She says emphasis should be placed on trying to understand and treat the psychological disorder behind paedophile crime.

"It only became an offence a very short time ago as victims dared speak up about the damage it caused them and people woke up to how serious it was," she said.

"And because it's so recent, there hasn't been proper psychological analysis of the mechanisms at work. We'll only really start to make progress against sex crime when we find out what's going on in the heads of different categories of sex offender."

These past few months have seen a series of paedophile rape trials in France.

These crimes, related in awful detail, have outraged public opinion and left it eager for action. But there is a malaise.

While chemicals might succeed in stopping paedophiles using their bodies to re-offend, nothing is being done to reform the paedophile imprisoned in his mind.


SEE ALSO:
'Make friends with a paedophile'
22 Nov 04 |  Scotland


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