Germany must stop castrating sex offenders, says European rights watchdog

BERLIN, Germany — The Council of Europe has criticized Germany for offering surgical castration as part of the rehabilitation of sex offenders.

In a new report, the watchdog's Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) calls the practice "degrading" and recommends immediate action to outlaw it.

More from GlobalPost: Russia weighs chemical castration of pedophiles

As German law stands, people considered at risk of committing sexual crimes can volunteer to undergo the procedure in order to help them manage "an abnormal sex drive."

Few people do, according to the CPT's report: "unofficial statistics" indicate that there were fewer than five surgical castrations per year in Germany over the past decade.

The German government defends the practice on the grounds that it is not used as a punishment, rather a treatment that "enables severe illnesses, mental disorders and suffering tied to an abnormal sex drive of the person affected to be cured or at least alleviated." According to one study cited, of 104 people who were castrated between 1970-80, only 3 percent reoffended, compared to 46 percent of the 53 others who did not have the operation.

However, the CPT questioned the efficacity of castration, saying there was no guarantee that it would result in the permanent lowering of testosterone levels and, therefore, the presumed reduction of sexual impulses. 

At the same time, unlike more recent treatments such hormone therapy, surgical castration is irreversible, the CPT said, and may have "serious physical and mental consequences." Furthermore, prisoners may feel themselves pressured into agreeing to it, "believing that it is the only available option to them to avoid indefinite confinement."

The CPT concludes that the procedure is "a mutilating, irreversible intervention and cannot be considered as a medical necessity in the context of the treatment of sexual offenders."

In its response to the report, the German government said it "understood" the CPT's critical view of castration, and was considering launching a debate on the matter.

According to the Guardian, the Czech Republic is the only other EU state that still uses the procedure, for which it too has been criticized by the CPT.

However, several more countries offer sex offenders chemical castration – the use of drugs to reduce libido – including Denmark, Poland and France, as well as a number of US states. And in Russia, parliament recently approved a bill to make chemical castration mandatory for pedophiles, RIA Novosti reported.

More from GlobalPost: UK approves TV 'execution' of celebrity sex offender

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