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[Editorial] Chemical castration

As Korea introduces the use of “chemical castration” on sex offenders this week for the first time in Asia, many wonder how effective the controversial method will be in protecting our children from sexual deviants. “Chemical castration” is a misnomer because what will be implemented in Korea does not involve sterilization or removal of any specific organ.

The law on the treatment of sexual offenders which was enacted last year allows the court to order medication on convicted criminals to reduce their sexual desire and activity. Subject to the medication to be administered for up to 15 years at the request of prosecutors will be sexual offenders aged 19 or above who had victimized minors under 16. They will receive behavioral and psychological therapy in addition to taking drugs that suppress their libido.

While the implementation of the law was delayed for a year, some civic groups and academics opposed the forced medication system as a form of punishment on the grounds of a lack of social consensus. However, sex crimes against minors have been on the rise during the past months. Electronic anklets on sex offenders often proved ineffective in preventing repeat offenses.

The Justice Ministry has formed an advisory group consisting of doctors and psychiatrists and the experts have chosen drugs to be used for “chemical castration,” including the GnRh agonist, which suppresses the release of testosterone. Still the biggest problem is the possibility of side effects such as the loss of bone density and the long-term risk of cardiovascular diseases. Another drawback, according to experts, is that chemical castration has no permanent effect and suppressed sexual desire comes back when treatment is discontinued.

Justice Ministry officials estimate that about 100 sex offenders could be treated each year at the cost of some 5 million won. Yet, in the event of proven side effects, the state should be responsible for redressing damage. Therefore, it is necessary for the ministry authorities to conduct a thorough checkup of individual physical conditions before starting medication.

In actual implementation of the law, there is high possibility that prison terms are reduced in exchange for acceptance of chemical castration. When the sex offenders are given probation or parole, the authorities should obtain informed consent from them with acknowledgment of health problems involved. Emphasis should be given to psychological therapy if the new system is to produce desired effects.
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