Thailand is poised to pass a law that allows the chemical castration of sex criminals in a bid to stop them from reoffending.
The “Violence-Related Reoffending Prevention Bill” was proposed by the Justice Ministry and has already sailed through three readings in the House of Representatives.
After winning overwhelming support from MPs, this more punitive approach to sex offenses is now being reviewed by the Senate.
Chemical castration is not a new form of punishment. It has been used in South Korea, Pakistan, Poland, and at least eight states in the US. Other countries – including Norway, Denmark, and Germany – have opted for surgical castration of serious sexual criminals.
Why such drastic action?
Corrections Department records reveal that 1,037 convicted sex offenders went on to reoffend during the first year after their release from jail. About 1,700 reoffended within two years of being released, while 2,111 sexually violated victims within three years.
Earlier this year, a security guard at a condominium in Bangkok raped a female resident. Criminal records show the rapist, who confessed in police custody, had previously served time for the rape of a teenager.
Then there was the case of the criminal dubbed Thailand’s very own “Jack the Ripper”. Somkid Pumpuang’s killing spree across several provinces cost five women their lives in 2005 before he was finally arrested six days after the fifth murder. He was released early in 2019, but only seven months later he killed a 51-year-old hotel housekeeper he had been dating.
“When such crimes are reported, people pray that this will be the last such incident, but it never is,” said Palang Pracharath MP Patcharin Samsiripong. “Should we continue living in fear?” asked the lawmaker, who is among the draft bill’s leading supporters.
Patcharin studied criminal justice at Sam Houston State University in the US and returned to earn a PhD in criminology from Mahidol University. In Parliament, she has actively pushed for the new bill, claiming it will be effective in preventing crimes.
KhangGuy Areyasakul, a survivor of sexual crime, supports chemical castration because she believes it will prevent sexual abuse and give justice to the victims.
“It’s not fair to victims when their attackers are just fined or jailed,” said KhangGuy, a well-known blogger.
In an online survey conducted in 2020, more than three-quarters (78 percent) of Thais supported chemical castration.
What is chemical castration?
Patcharin said when the bill passes into law, convicted sex offenders would be given injections that would be able to prevent them – at least temporarily – from reoffending.
“The castration will not be permanent,” she said.
Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin recently explained that convicts can be injected with certain drugs that lower their sexual urges, adding that the procedure would be conducted in line with medical standards.
Convicts subjected to chemical castration will get an injection every three months and be required to wear electronic monitoring devices. Each injection costs about 10,000 baht.
Urologist Dr Kampanart Pornyoskrai explained that chemical castration works by reducing the levels of testosterone in the sexual offender’s body.
Is it a violation of human rights?
Somsak said chemical castration would only be administered with approval from the courts, the consent of the convict and recommendations from at least two doctors.
“The process is not barbaric. Several countries have implemented this method,” the justice minister insisted.
In Somsak’s view, the bill is “progressive” and he hopes it will pass into law.
“We are pushing for this draft law because we hope it will make Thai society safer,” he added.
But the director of the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation does not think chemical castration will reduce sexual crimes.
“Even though the penalty was raised in 2019, the number of rapes has not dropped,” said Jadet Chaowilai.
In his opinion, sexual crimes are rooted in patriarchal attitudes. In order to tackle the problem’s root cause, the focus should not be just on laws, but also on how to change deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes.
Urologist Kampanart said research shows that the number of sexual crimes falls slightly in countries that introduce castration – surgical or chemical – as a penalty. However, this gives rise to a new problem – more rape victims have been killed, apparently because rapists are afraid of being caught and castrated.
“Also, we cannot ignore the possibility of scapegoats being convicted and castrated,” said Kampanart.
He also pointed out that the burden on the taxpayer is relatively high. For instance, many Britons have expressed unhappiness at having to shoulder the costs of chemically castrated convicts.
Jadet disagrees with the introduction of chemical castration because he believes sexual reoffending can be prevented using other methods.
“The Social Development and Human Security Ministry should wage campaigns against sexual violation and harassment,” he said. “The Education Ministry should also promote gender equality [through schools].”
He added that unwarranted touching or staring can also be considered sexual harassment.
Jadet lamented that while public campaigns have managed to get rape scenes removed from television soaps to some extent, variety shows still present sexually explicit acts that sometimes border on sexual harassment.
“For instance, comedians touch parts of women’s bodies, or require women to sit on their lap. Such content needs to be controlled,” he said.
Meanwhile, women and girls can face sexual harassment in their daily lives due to primitive attitudes, he added.
“Complaint hotlines and response procedures should also be more effective. Though some channels exist, few victims actually file complaints because they doubt they will get any help,” Jadet said.
To take effective action via laws to control sexual crimes, the country must change the definition of rape, he said. Currently, Thai law only recognizes rape as a crime when it is committed via sexual organs.
“These laws fail to recognize what can happen to LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people], for example,” he said.
Last but not least, Jadet said, the Corrections Department should strive to change the behavior of convicts while they are behind bars. Their attitude needs to be transformed, so they will behave better when released from jail, he said.
“At present, convicts only feel angry and vengeful when behind bars,” he added.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk