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Sex Offenders' Rights in The American Judicial System

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When people think of the label “sex offender”, the responses following are typically negative. Connotations surrounding convicted sex offenders often include violence, forcible assaults, abusing children, and so on. While there are thousands of sex offenders with convictions pertaining to these words, generalizing this population creates a problematic outcome. The public finds no reason to help these people, but instead would rather lock them up away from their communities or even have them killed. While sex-related crimes are heinous and extreme in most cases, clumping this population up does not allow for potentially constructive treatment and rehabilitation. Assuming that the convicts are inherently evil and are not worthy to exist in society revokes the opportunity to reform these individuals. There will never be a treatment that works for 100% of those in the program but starting to identify what approaches are successful can start the process of lessening risk for reoffending.

When considering how we treat sex offenders, our first and most common course of action is to register them onto a list of other offenders in order to keep track of their address, contact information, and other various information. With this registry, sex offenders must often notify their neighbors of their criminal status, or law enforcement does this themselves. This community notification can be seen as a safe way of staying aware of potentially risky people. One question posed is whether or not communities, schools, and classmates should be notified about an offender under the age of 18 in their area. When considering this, it is important to take into account the rights of minors and privacy. Juvenile trials do not have a jury, as both a means of maintaining a rehabilitative environment as well as keeping privileged information. Informing communities or fellow students could potentially create an extremely hostile environment; whether they are physically threatened or ostracized by their peers, the emotional and mental damage could leave lasting effects. Depression, suicidal ideations, or even increased involvement in criminal activity could ensue, which would completely defeat the purpose of essentially shaming someone into compliance. While many would feel that knowing who is a threat would keep everyone safer, minors’ right to privacy should be universally protected. On a related note, some feel that juvenile sex offenders should be removed from schools. This would do far more damage than any form of bullying could do. Depriving a juvenile of an education is a massive ethical violation. If they must attend a specialized school or one intended for students who have demonstrated an inability to follow the conduct in mainstream facilities, that would be okay. Completely removing a child would simply worsen the issue and heighten the risk of the child either reoffending or participating in other forms of crime. Something often discussed is the school-to-prison pipeline, which refers to the impact of zero-tolerance policies on juveniles, and this would apply closely with the theory.

The idea of castration as a response to repeat offenders stems from a historical and rather brutal punishment used to condemn criminals who committed sex-related crimes. The modern and arguably “humane” methods of castration are surgical castration and chemical castration. Surgical castration is the permanent removal of a male’s testicles with the intention of lowering testosterone production. Chemical castration involves the use of weekly or monthly estrogen injections with the goal of balancing out high testosterone levels with female hormones. Both have the same goal: lower the male hormone tied to sexual urges and violent behavior in order to combat or minimize desires and sex drive. The question surrounding this method of punishment or treatment is whether or not this is an ethical practice to mandate of certain categories of offenders. It poses concerns around reproductive rights, bodily autonomy, and the risk of inflicting further harm. Is this a cruel and unusual punishment?

If the American Judicial System considers castration as a viable method of punishment or treatment of sex offenders, it sets a dangerous precedent. The structure of reproductive rights is already a fragile and heatedly debated area of legislation. Surgical castration sterilizes the male in question, and it is outside the jurisdiction of lawmakers to forcibly mandate the sterilization of anyone. Allowing the castration of sex offenders could lead to a slippery slope of sterilization used for other criminal sanctions; for example, sterilization could easily be proposed for women with history of child abuse or neglect to prevent further harm, or women convicted for drug usage to prevent the birth of “crack babies” or drug addicted children. Obviously, this would begin to pose a great deal of ethical dilemmas that should not even be considered in the first place.

[bookmark: _Hlk532150384] In one of the documentaries assigned, there were a few offenders with experience with varying forms of castration that spoke on their experiences. One man, Jeffery Morris, voluntarily insisted upon being surgically castrated in addition to his prison sentencing (Indigo, 2004). He felt that this was a way to take control of his life and overcome the urges that ended in the harm of another. Morris has since seen a drastic improvement in the intensity and frequency of his sexually deviant urges (Indigo, 2009). This example poses a potential compromise to the ethical question of castration: should it be available if an individual wants to take this route? The catch of this would be that the procedure would not lessen the sentence of the offender, as this could be seen as a form of coercion. A convicted sex offender should not have to choose sterilization in order to get a lighter sentence, but instead should choose it in order to begin rehabilitation and building coping skills. Another man, “Jason”, discussed his experience with chemical castration (Indigo, 2004). Its effects are still in question, as he still struggles with urges and continues to masturbate to deviant fantasies. The conflict with chemical castration is that it is only mandated for three years (minimum), so when the injections stop, testosterone returns to its previous levels. This could completely dismantle the progress of the individual. For this, legislators would have to consider a long-term chemical solution, such as arm implants (such as the ones used for women’s contraceptives). While “Jason” still struggles, when posed with the hypothetical option of surgical castration, he responded with, “I’d rather fucking be dead” (Indigo, 2004). His response is most likely indicative to the attitudes of many men in his position. If castration is mandated, it poses the risk of doing further harm to the men undergoing its effects. Not only are there significant physical changes, but mental changes as well that can increase the risk of the development of depression or extreme frustration.

Taking the information above into consideration, it seems that the topic of sentencing sex offenders is a sticky situation of ethics and extreme responses. To begin constructively breaking down a plan of action, one must consider whether treatment or punishment is the desired path. While punishment satisfies the society and victims, it may fall short when dealing with such a mentally involved problem. Treatment is the most common approach for other mental disorders; chronic masturbation, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses are not met with punitive action but instead intensive, therapeutic attention. Though resources are devastatingly scarce, ideally dealing with sex offenders would be involving mental health professionals and creating a highly flexible and intensive program. Measuring the success of such programs would take a great deal of time and careful monitoring. It would have to consider the average recidivism rates of offenders released from prison without treatment (control group) and the recidivism rates of offenders receiving varying intensities of treatment programs (independent variable).

Therapy is best used for disarming the strengths of driving thoughts and feelings. When looking at actions that people take, it is broken down into thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In order to modify behavior, trained professionals begin breaking down cycle and target the problematic areas. While castration can act as a way to make breaking this cycle easier, the offender should be given the opportunity to learn to cope without such methods in place. Especially in the case of chemical castration, where treatment is temporary, the disruption of such important hormones can potentially aggravate existing issues or create new ones. Individuals on antidepressants, for example, are not treated for a time and then immediately cut off, as this would cause a massive withdrawal and previous symptoms would return (sometimes with more severe impacts). Offenders receiving therapeutic treatment need to be able to cope with the chemicals that currently exist in their system to best learn how to disrupt powerful deviant urges. The documentary presenting the imprisonment of pedophiles shows a treatment group taking place within the prison; the social worker in the program acknowledged that while some may “cheat the system”, there are ways to measure growth (Ross Smith, 2009). They have recorded that with their program only one out of ten sex offenders recidivate upon release (Ross Smith, 2009). This is enormous improvement when considering how many victims have been spared from abuse.

Sex offenders, while viewed as the worst of the worst, are still human beings. Human beings respond to stimulus, desire rewards, avoid pain, and have goals that they want to reach. Giving sex offenders the chance to grow and move forward in their lives is a controversial statement but one that should be made more often. While some made cognizant, fully-aware choices that led to the harm of others, there are many that could drastically benefit from a different approach to rehabilitation. Even one person changed is worth something.

Works Cited

  • Indigo. (Producer). (2004). Punishing the pedophiles [Motion picture]. United States: A & E Home Video.
  • Ross Smith, D. (Writer & Director). (2009). Lockdown: Sex offenders [Motion Picture]. United States: National Geographic.

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Sex Offenders’ Rights In The American Judicial System. (2021, October 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 23, 2022, from
“Sex Offenders’ Rights In The American Judicial System.” GradesFixer, 25 Oct. 2021,
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