Castration is a practice of body mutilation by the removal of the testes. Although castration in the traditional, surgical sense is gradually being consigned to history, it is still recorded nowadays as a form of punishment for rapists and child molesters, as a religious ritual, or as a symbolic act of subduing an enemy in a time of war. The rationale behind castration as it is applied to sex offenders is that it results in the reduction of testosterone levels, which means diminished libido and reduced deviant sexual activity.
According to studies conducted in a number of European countries, between the years 1929 and 1959, less than 10 percent of convicted rapists recommitted sexual offenses after castration, whereas recidivism rates for noncastrated males are estimated to be as high as 60 percent. It could therefore be effective both as punishment and treatment, but disciplinary surgical castration is nowadays viewed as highly inhumane and is no longer practiced legally in the Western world. In this situation, medical research is conducted in an effort to produce a satisfying alternative.
Chemical castration through the administration of drugs has recently been tested on convicted sexual offenders. Drugs in application nowadays, such as medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA), lower blood levels of testosterone, which in turn reduces a male’s erectile ability and tends to bring beneficial behavioral effects. Many experts venture to opine that MPA appears effective, as recidivism rates among disturbed males who underwent treatment drop visibly. But as critics point out, this form of prevention has limited effectiveness, especially in the case of pedophiles. Although castrated offenders are physically unable to penetrate their victims, many nevertheless still demonstrate sexual anxiety and are likely to abuse children in other ways.
Moreover, as other critics argue, castration in any form is unconstitutional. The legal status of castration has varied from society to society. After hundreds of years of castration being an-eye-for-an-eye-style punishment for sexual crimes in ancient Rome, especially for adultery, Emperor Hadrian regarded it with extreme repugnance and declared that it was a crime on a par with murder. Similarly, a prohibition against castration was added to the original six Talmudic commandments. But in other cultures it was endorsed as an official form of punishment for a range of crimes, as was the case of ancient China’s laws of Han. Castration was also the common sentence for rape and adultery in ancient India, Egypt, among the Huns, and in medieval Europe. Not infrequently, it was also a fate befalling homosexuals, both because homosexuality itself was commonly considered a sexual crime and because homosexuals were believed to be more reliable as guards of the chastity of women in harems.
Castration for this purpose was endorsed by the Shariah, the Court of Islamic Law. Because sexual relations between individuals of uneven social stations were deemed unacceptable, castration was often used to punish the one of inferior status. A familiar example is the fate of American slaves accused of raping white women. In the twentieth century, castration was reinstituted for a few decades in several European countries as a sentence for sex offenders. Apart from a history of being judicial punishment and treatment, castration is not infrequently resorted to, extrajudicially, as a form of vengeance. In 1936, a Tokyo geisha Sada Abe, 31, was apprehended on charges of having castrated her unfaithful lover in his sleep.