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The NSW Government Is Considering Chemical Castration For Sex Offenders

But psychiatrists say it's a bad idea.

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The NSW government has set up a taskforce that will investigate whether they should force sex offenders to take anti-libido medication to stop them from re-offending, but experts say the proposal has serious ethical issues.

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Made up of representatives from the government and police, as well as legal and health experts and victims groups, the taskforce would look at expanding the use of chemical castration in prisons and whether judges should be allowed to include it as a sentencing option.

Currently, sex offenders in NSW can choose to take libido-reducing drugs in prison. In Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia, courts can order people classified as "dangerous sex offenders" to be chemically castrated when they are released from prison, but it is not a sentencing option.

The radical idea is supported by deputy premier and justice minister Troy Grant, who used to be a senior police officer.

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"Child sex offenders leave their victims with life-long trauma and I am determined that our whole justice system, from the courts through to corrections, protects children as a priority," he said.

"Anti-libidinal medication alone is not a cure-all, but I want to make sure we make the very best possible use of it, combined with other strong measures, to prevent reoffending.

"If we make can make improvements that save just one child from this horrendous crime, it will be worth it."

Chemical castration usually works by taking a drug called an anti-androgen that suppresses your sex drive.

Side effects include osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, metabolic abnormalities, and gynaecomastia.

The drugs are not designed to treat mental illness, but rather decrease the likelihood of a person acting on a sexual preference by decreasing their libido.

Other treatments, such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) medications, work differently by "reducing the frequency and severity of deviant fantasies."

Last year former NSW MP Andrew Tink, who took anti-androgens to treat his prostate cancer, called for the drug to be given to sex-offenders.

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"One side effect is that my sex drive is totally suppressed," he wrote to an inquiry.

"It’s as if the switch in my brain which governs my libido has been turned off. As the doctors say, it amounts to chemical castration; impotence is guaranteed."

But some experts say the whole idea is more of a quick fix, and won't be an effective treatment for the majority of sex offenders.

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Maggie Hall, a lecturer at the school of social sciences and psychology at the University of Western Sydney, says there is not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of the drugs.

The other problem is that the medication would only work on people who are paedophiles, not all child sex offenders.

"Paeodophilia is a precise psychiatric diagnosis, but paedophiles only make up a small proportion of child sex offenders," she told BuzzFeed News.

"Sex offenders are opportunistic, the abuse is part of their normal practice of offending, and it all comes down to your analysis of what sexual abuse is about. For many offenders, it's less about sex than it is about control and power."

Hall believes the chemical castration debate promotes the idea that child sexual abuse is mostly perpetrated by paedophilic strangers, when in reality up to 90% of sexual abusers of children are known to the victim.

"Having this debate misses out on an opportunity to discuss how power dynamics work in families, like how fathers and stepfathers can abuse their children with impunity. We are avoiding asking ourselves the difficult questions," she said.

For the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), there's also the issue of consent. Being forced to administer drugs to a patient by a judge is ethically problematic.

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"(Our) Code of Ethics states that psychiatrists shall seek valid consent from their patients before undertaking any procedure or treatment," said forensic psychiatrist Dr John Kasinathan.

"The prescription of anti-androgenic medication is a clinical decision and relies on medical knowledge and specific knowledge of the patient in question," he said.

Maggie Hall says it needs to be made clear whether chemical castration is being used as a punishment or as a treatment, considering the debilitating side effects of long-term use.

She said the treatment has been proven to be more effective if it is used voluntarily.

"I had a client who was on it, he had grandchildren and he didn't want to abuse anymore. But it was voluntary, he was concerned about his own offending and he was prepared to be on it for life," she told BuzzFeed News.

"It's the mandatory nature of it, that's the problem. Having it as a treatment option could be a good idea but it's not a cure all propblem for child sex abuse. It's going to take a hell of a lot more soul searching for us as a society to get to all that."

The NSW government taskforce is expected to report its recommendations by the end of the year.

Alexandra Lee is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Alex Lee at alexandra.lee@buzzfeed.com.

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