I was invited to speak at the public hearing Monday regarding the proposed Bill 99, the “Chemical Castration for Sex Offenders Act,” co-sponsored by Senators Brant McCreadie and Tony Ada. I ended up submitting written comments to Sen. McCreadie’s office instead, as I couldn’t make it to the hearing itself:
My name is Elizabeth “Isa” Kelley Bowman. I have a Ph.D. in literature and a graduate certificate in women’s studies from Northern Illinois University, and I am an assistant professor of comparative literature and the coordinator of the Women and Gender Studies program at the University of Guam. [I am speaking in my own capacity, not as a representative of my employer.] I have lived and worked on Guam since July 2012.
Guam has the second highest rate of reported rapes in the U.S. and its territories (second only to Alaska), and we know, as Dr. Ellen Bes of Healing Hearts has said, that this is probably only the tip of the iceberg. We see that many of these rapes are of minors, within the family unit. I am strongly of the feeling, like the co-sponsors of this bill, that we must address this situation quickly and decisively.
I will speak from the perspective of a scholar first and then from the perspective of an activist.
Rape is not primarily or solely about sexual desire or eroticism, according to the studies of feminist theory. It is about exerting power or control over another individual. It is primarily about violence, not sexuality.
Although it is very moving and heartening to hear some of the stories of some men using this treatment who feel they have now got control over deviant urges, particularly coming out of Scandinavia and England, we also see from the studies and court records that some men do not report changes in sexual urges or behaviors after receiving chemical castration and some men are accused of or actually are found to have committed the same sexual crimes again even while they are undergoing (or supposedly undergoing), or after undergoing, this drug treatment.
The causes of rape and the trauma of individuals are not best addressed by a temporary chemical reduction in sexual urges that is administered after the fact, after conviction of the crime. They are addressed by examining, and equalizing, power structures in society.
It would be better for us as a society to examine and seek to affect the underlying causes of rape before a rape is committed, rather than impose what I would view as a cruel and unusual punishment after a man has been convicted of rape.
I am reminded that the famous British computer scientist and mathematician Alan Turing was forced to choose between chemical castration or prison when he was found to be gay. Forcible chemical castration has been condemned by Amnesty International as a violation of human rights. Chemical castration using anti-androgens has side effects including osteoporosis, the development of female physical characteristics such as enlarged breasts, and permanent damage to cardiovascular health. It is not a harmless procedure. Nor is it a permanent solution – this is not A Clockwork Orange. There is no simple causal link that has been proven between testosterone levels and physical violence.
As an activist and advocate regarding sexual harassment at the University of Guam, I have come to understand sexual or violent sexual crimes as part of a larger picture of oppression, domination, and privilege on Guam. Traditional forms of masculinity in Chamorro and other island cultures have been decimated, according to my colleagues Dr. LisaLinda Natividad and Jon Guerrero at UOG, and poverty and hopelessness also plays a large role. The Spanish imposition of patriarchy and ideas that men are more violent or more dominant tore apart the more egalitarian balance between the maga’låhi and maga’håga of age-old Chamorro culture. The massive influx of Filipinos and Outer Islanders and U.S. military has placed a huge burden on social services and cultural conceptions on Guam. Sex trafficking is prevalent in our region, thanks to socioeconomic inequities and attitudes of entitlement and privilege on the parts of men and especially white military men.
I recommend the following steps:
1 – programs to support public education on this issue
2 – increased funding of treatment centers for survivors of rape
3 – stronger laws to protect children in abusive home situations and more aggressive investigations
4 – increased funding of social services and therapeutic programs for impoverished or unemployed men and women
5 – stronger enforcement of mandatory reporting laws
6 – a comprehensive and non-“abstinence-based” sex-ed program in the public schools which begins teaching children as early as preschool or kindergarten to report “bad touches” and emphasizes ideas of consent to all children
7 – working to end the Compact of Free Association, the planned military build-up, and other U.S.-imposed, colonialist, imperialist situations of massive social change that place significant strain on Guam’s limited resources
I believe from my experiences on Guam since I first came here about three years ago to work at UOG that we have a situation on island where white supremacy is in effect, as well as systems of sexism. We MUST seek actively to bring more equality to our island.
Inequitable power structures are the basis of rape as well as harassment and assault. We must empower children to speak up and have simple and effective means of reporting and finding help for rape or “bad touches.” We must recognize that rapists are nearly always habitual repeat offenders and provide them treatment and supervision when released from incarceration, as well as programs for rehabilitation and reintegration into employment and family life. We must empower women, especially mothers of children, to have financial independence and easy, effective routes to (for example) leaving an abusive husband or gaining a court order of protection for a child or herself. We must enforce existing laws. We must model the increasing attention the U.S. military is giving to streamlining the reporting and conviction process. We must reshape existing laws and judicial procedures so that a reporting victim or survivor does not face an uphill battle and is not assumed to be lying until proven otherwise.
I am currently in the process of conducting an IRB-approved survey of UOG students and alumni on experiences of sexual harassment and assault. The vast majority are ignorant of their rights and even of the definition of sexual harassment, but their answers also tell me that the majority of them state or believe sexual harassment and rape are occurring on our campus. And yet we do not have any program to reach out to these young people on our campus, to educate them, and to empower them.
We must ASK. We must ask children to tell us. We must ask young people to tell us. We must ask men and women to tell us if they have experienced sexual harassment and rape. We cannot wait for the traumatized and disempowered to magically develop the superhuman resources to come forward. We must assertively and actively address the systematic power imbalances that contribute to situations of rape and other crimes. We must empower the poorest, the most vulnerable, among us.
Is there a situation where one person is considerably older? Is there a situation where one person is male? Is there a situation where one person is white? Is there a situation where one person has more economic power?
Those are the situations that lead to abuses of and crimes against the less powerful.
We live in a society where non-egalitarianism is a historical artifact of colonialism. We must recognize the structures in place that provide for abuses — racism, classism, sexim, colonialism — and address the root causes of crimes.
Rape is not — or not only — about a chemical imbalance. It is about a power imbalance in society. And that is what we must address.