This is, minus the usual last minute alterations the T2 Cover Story I was meant to have out today, before the pressure of an emerging story bumped it. It was derived from my experiences making Channel 4's The Castration Cure (dir David Russell) to be broadcast 10.35 July 5
In one of his last announcements as Home Secretary, John Reid last month disclosed that child sex offenders are to be offered “chemical castration”. Under new measures selected convicted paedophiles will be given the drug Leuproreline. Its intended effect is to suppress their sexual urges enough to allow them – after extensive psychological treatment - to be reintroduced into society.
The use of anti-libido drugs as a gateway to the rehabilitation of paedophiles continues to divide opinion. Many of us recoil on a gut level from the notion of “treating” a group of men whose crimes are so abhorrent, and so devastating to their
victims. And the idea of freeing convicted paedophiles – however neutered, medicated and psychologically altered – to mingle anonymously amongst us and our children when there is even the slightest chance of them reoffending is even more repellent.
But professionals in the field of sex offender treatment, like consultant Ray Wyre, say that we must use every tool at our disposal to treat sex-offenders.
“We seem to spend a fortune building prisons and hospitals at the bottom of the cliff, but never think to put a fence at the top,” he says, “We need to do use every technique that we have, including anti-testosterone treatment, to deal with the problem of treating existing sex offenders and preventing future ones. The fact remains that sex offenders will be released from prison and until start to treat them in the most effective way available it will continue to be the children who pay the price.”
I spent six months researching a Channel 4 documentary about the effects of castration of paedophiles in America, where the “chemical castration” has been relatively common for the last decade. Nine States have castration laws, and five of those even allow for the surgical castration. About twenty men have voluntarily undergone full physical castration.
Some of the offenders I met were infamous, others had hardly got a column inch in the local papers. But one thing they all had in common was that they all were all, in American jargon, Sexually Violent Predators. And they had all undergone surgical or chemical castration.
In Dallas County Jail I met David Jones. As a nineteen year old youth worker Jones had been known to the kids of the East Dallas YMCA as Super Dave. Two years later he confessed to molesting 43 boys and gained the nickname the Y rapist. Now he is the most infamous castrate in Texas.
He doesn’t look like a monster. Jones is a neat bespectacled young man, who speaks quickly and earnestly, interspersing his conversation with talk of God. Like many of the paedophiles I’ve now encountered he is personable and affable – even charming.
Jones, 36, has finished his 15-year sentence. He claims he had a “Damascus” moment of self-realisation, and become one of only three men to take part in the Texas voluntary surgical castration programme.
“I got the surgery in March 2004.” He told me, “I have not masturbated since. It’s not even a temptation. I feel cleaner than I ever have.”
Yet he is still languishing in jail on minor parole violations. Jones, like many others believes that impossible obstacles will always be placed between him and his freedom. He complains he’s done everything asked of him. But for the people of Dallas, this just might not be enough.
Even if things go Jones’s way, his freedom will be conditional. In 16 States when a sex offender gets to the end of their prison sentence they may be detained under the mental health act until they can be shown to be safe.
In Texas this is done on an out-patient basis with tagging, testing and monitoring. In the other States it is in a maximum security hospital, similar to Broadmoor.
It was in one such institution that I met Fred Hoffman and his “lover” Greg Grant. Hoffman had three convictions for molesting prepubescent boys, twice in public toilets. Grant had three sex convictions, two for abducting pubescent boys to motels, where once he forcibly administered an enema.
Their home is California’s Atascadero State Hospital. It is an enormous fifties building, reminiscent of the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, with thick walls, haunted looking men and ward nurses supervising from behind plate glass.
Hoffman, 43, a giant of a man, with a child-like demeanour has now been cleared for conditional release, which is expected in the next month. On the rare occasions when Atascadero considers Sexually Violent Predators to be sufficiently safe, this is the next step. Hoffman is only the sixth man in ten years to have got this far. When he walks out the doors it will be with an implant that slowly releases a chemical castration drug in his arm, and a GPS unit on his ankle.
Hoffman told me “I am confident that the programme has given me the tools I need not to reoffend, and in myself to do whatever it takes not to reoffend”
However he wants to go further than the anti-testosterone treatment he will already have on the outside. He has been convinced by Grant, a startling looking sixty-two year old in a wheelchair that the real solution to the disease of paedophilia, is total removal of the testicles. After decades of mental anguish, Grant was castrated in 2005, and claims it has brought him peace.
“Children and my sick fantasises are no longer part of my life, “he told me, “It is all gone and a child means nothing to me sexually or any other way”
Hoffman says if he can save up $5000 on the outside he will get the castration. He even wants to set up a foundation to help others.
Hoffman and Grant share many things, stealing “together-moments” during recreation periods like high school sweethearts. However an attitude to cognitive therapy is not one of the things they agree on. Hoffman has accepted all the cognitive treatment offered to him, and demonstrates a high level of self- awareness.
He says “the damage I have done to innocent children is irreversible. I expect people not to trust me, to hate me, to be revolted by what I have done, and I don’t blame them”
On the outside he will have his every step monitored and controlled, and where he will have to earn privileges like a car or mobile phone or internet, and never be allowed near places where children congregate.
Grant however has refused all “talk treatment”. “They try to change us on a rational level”, he says , “but paedophilia works on an entirely irrational level.”
Chemical assistance first came to Grant in 1998 when his psychiatrist Dr Mary Flavan put him on a drug called depo provera. “It was a revelation,” he told me ,”a cure”
Grant’s problems seemingly stem from his mothers’ obsession with administering enemas on him which led to a deviant fantasy life of giving them to pubescent boys first lived out in hotels, giving himself “monstrous orgasms” and then made a reality.
Before the drugs he says “words like enema and spanking were cause for an instant erection, and afterwards they became just words” But with already weak bones from an accident he was taken off the drugs whose side effect is bone thinning. He was livid, comparing it to a cancer patient being denied chemotherapy.
But he was given support in his quest for continued anti-libido treatment by Dr Flavan who says she believes that castration is the only known effective treatment of sex offenders..
The official line from Atascadero, however, is that it is “incorrect and simplistic”, to attribute sex offending just to testosterone . Consultant psychiatrist, Dr Paladino has said “It’s human to look for a quick cure, the instant pixie dust that will ensure you never offend again, but if you don’t change your thinking there is going to be a problem”
For Hoffman, chemical treatment was not a quick cure. Rather it allowed him to really get to a place where the cognitive therapy could work.
“After six months,” he told me “when the drug really began to work it opened my mind, which was previously struggling with the deviance”. As another castrate from Atascadero put it to me “you wouldn’t get very far trying to treat a drunk when he was happy in the comfortable point of mild intoxication.”.
Most professionals I spoke to agreed that castration therapy has a place. The moot point is exactly where that place is.
Psychiatrist, Walter Meyer, who helped assess David Jones’ suitability for castration told me “this treatment (castration), can be a useful tool, but it is not a substitute for the cognitive therapy. Above all, it is important that parole boards and the like do not mistake this for a cure and release people who have had it thinking that they are safe.”
On the question of whether it works, Professor Bill Winslade, co-ordinator of the Texas castration program is more blunt. “In truth,” he told me “we don’t know for sure what works”. He explained to me that interpreting the statistics that people use to prove or disprove the efficacy of castration, statistics which even include the Nazi programme, was a lot more complicated than reading the headline figure.
Winslade say “ I believe that castration can work for non-violent well motivated paedophiles”. The real trick is assessing the nature of the offender being treated.
If the anti-libido treatment seems very “Clockwork Orange”, the same is true of the assessment techniques. In a run down industrial estate in Fort Worth I was shown the penile plesythmograph (PPG) that Jones was tested on.
It involves a cuff being put on the penis while the patient is shown a number of erotic images and audio tapes of bizarre deviant fantasy stories generated by a lab in Utah.
Jones’ tests showed his orientation to remain roughly the same but his levels of arousal to be all sub-clinical. We were assured that despite his having the testosterone levels of a prepubescent boy, the tests would still show flag up danger were Jones still in denial. The Texas assessment team have learned to treat patients responses with caution. As counsellor Maria Mollett told me, “we learn to be wary. Many offenders are very good at duping you. They just want out”
Jones’ motivation had been a long time coming. He is compulsive. At the YMCA he compulsively molested boys pinned down in tickle games, and early in his prison sentence he would still compulsively engage in sexual activity with other inmates. He even got kicked out of the Sex Offender Treatment Program in 1992.
The turning point came in 1996 from the experiences of a man he was having a relationship with.
In a letter Jones said: “He was molested for seven years and it escalated each year. He told me how he used to bathe in ammonia and put ammonia in his mouth to get the taste out of it. The revelation was like a slap in the face, and it brought me out of denial quick”.
More recently Jones has had another slap in the face. The boy who blew the whistle on him all those years back, Austin Funderburk, arrived in his prison wing, himself then accused of child molestation, and now convicted and serving 8 years.
Jones asked for a transfer, and wrote to Funderburk offering his apologies. Funderburk’s mother wants Jones locked away for good.
“I don’t think he should be given any more chances,” she says , “and as for being castrated, you can have your dog castrated and still see them out there trying to find the girls.”
I learnt more about the cyclical patterns of sex offending sitting in Hoffman’s mother’s trailer back in California. She, and Hoffman’s sister live in separate homes next to the hospital yet never visit him or each other. Bringing them together we learnt about Fred’s involvement with older men as a boy, but more shockingly that his father had himself been in Atascadero Hospital for paedophilia.
Hoffman avoids blaming anyone or anything else for his condition. He was married from 92 to 99. He says “When Wendy left me saying I would never change I realised that the only person who could help me was me”. He decided to sign up to the therapy. Four fifths of the inmates however refuse it as is their legal right.
California is also one of five states to theoretically have compulsory castration as a condition of parole. In practice it had never come to it until last month when a judge ordered that Cary Verse could only be re-released to the community if he went back on the drug Lupron. Verse who had suffered weight gain, bone thinning and kidney trouble from the drug told me: “This is something I will be wanting to fight. It’s worrying when you are put on any drug that’s bad for you and in terms of my treatment I think the Lupron has served its purpose”.
But psychiatrist Douglas Tucker, disagrees and said at his trial “I don’t think he can be managed in the community without it”
Concerns over the adverse health effects of the chemical castration is the main reason certain patients request, and pay for surgical castration, which under Californian law they are entitled to do, as long as they can show it’s treatment, not self – punishment.
The US constitution forbids the use of castration as punishment. As treatment, however, it is increasingly finding favour and for something with such connotations of retribution, advocates are ironically largely liberal and progressive medical professionals. Consultant Ray Wyre even suggests that professionals benefit from the suggestions of vengeance, carried by the term “chemical castration” to help win over a sceptical public.
My experiences in America left me in no doubt that chemical and physical castration was helping those offenders I met on their path to rehabilitation. However, these men had all independently found their own motivation. They were, by no means, necessarily representative of sex offenders as a whole.
There are, however, plenty of statistics that would suggest that castration, chemical or otherwise, does have widespread effectiveness.
For instance, a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine actually reports a 100 % success rate for the latest chemical castration drug, Triptorelin, when used in conjunction with counselling.
More conservative figures gathered from Scandinavia and North America suggest that chemical castration may reduce offending from nearly 50% to under 5%. There is no doubt that one in twenty is a huge improvement over one in two. But impressive as this is, the question remains, “is any chance, no matter how statistically small, worth taking when it comes to the safety of our children ..? “