Decoration

Can you stop a paedophile before they’ve abused a child?

Can you stop a paedophile before they’ve abused a child?

That’s the aim of a unique clinical trial in Sweden that aims to intervene in the lives of potential abusers. And it’s a trial that raises ethical and legal questions about whether societies can come up with therapies for the most dangerous offenders before they have broken the law.

The trial at the Karolinska Institute, one of the world’s leading medical universities, will recruit up to 60 potential sex offenders before they have broken the law.

The team, led by Dr Christoffer Rahm, will then investigate whether they can use a medicine to reduce the risk of the individual committing child abuse.

“Up until now most of the attention has been on how to deal with perpetrators [once detected] by the police or by the authorities, but by this stage children have already been harmed,” says Dr Rahm.

“I want to shift focus and explore methods of preventing child sex abuse from happening in the first place.”

Drug treatments for sex offenders, popularly known as chemical castration, aren’t new. There are a string of countries where men can have medication imposed upon them to crush their sex drive.

But nobody knows whether such treatments can be used to prevent abuse in the first place.

Karolinska Institute in Sweden

And that’s where Dr Rahm’s programme, which is seeking crowdfunding support, seeks to come in.

Over the course of two years, the 60 volunteers will be split into two groups. One will receive a drug that is known to rapidly and dramatically reduce levels of testosterone. The other will receive a placebo. Neither the researcher team nor the volunteers will know who is getting the medicine. This convoluted approach is the gold standard for clinical trials because nobody knows who is taking what until the end, meaning no-one can game the results and conclusions can’t be prejudiced by assumptions.

So, in theory, the researchers could come closer to establishing which types of offenders genuinely benefit in the long-term from having chemical castration-style drugs as part of therapy.

So how exactly are they recruiting these volunteers and how will they measure success?

Here in the UK, seven prisons give anti-libidinal drugs to paedophiles as part of a wider package designed to address offending.

But forensic psychiatrist Professor Donald Grubin of the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, a government consultant, says anyone on the cusp of offending is in a different situation altogether.

“The problem has been getting psychiatrists on board to treat [potential offenders],” he says.

“If you go to a GP, they will struggle to find someone to refer you on to.”

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