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Criminals like Westley Allan Dodd can't be saved

Andrew Vachss

January 06, 1993|By Andrew Vachss

Sexual predators are already narcissistic; they laugh behind their masks at our attempts to understand and rehabilitate them. We have earned their contempt by our belief that they can change -- by our confusion of "crazy" and "dangerous," of "sick" and "sickening."

If we don't intend to execute sexual predators, and we have no treatment, what is our final line of defense?

Washington State has a so-called sexual predator law permitting indefinite confinement of sex offenders deemed to be dangerous if released. The law's critics argue that psychiatry has been a woefully inadequate forecaster. Others cite the constitutional problems of imprisonment based on prospective conduct.

Recently there has been much discussion of voluntary castration. Such a "remedy" ignores reality. Sexual violence is not sex gone too far; it is violence with sex as its instrument. Rage, sadism and a desire to control or debase others are the driving forces.

Castration can be reversed chemically with black-market hormones, and sex murders have been committed by physically castrated rapists. People have been raped by blunt objects. And how do you castrate female offenders?

Our response to sexual predators must balance the extent and intensity of the possible behavior with the possibility of its occurrence. An ex-prisoner likely to expose himself on a crowded subway may be a risk we are willing to assume. A prisoner with even a moderate probability of sexual torture and murder is not. Such violence is like a rock dropped into a calm pool: Concentric circles spread even after the rock has sunk. More and more victims will be affected.

When it comes to sexual violence, the sum of our social and psychiatric knowledge adds up to this: Behavior is the truth. Chronic sexual predators have crossed an osmotic membrane. They can't step back to the other side -- our side. And they don't want to. If we don't kill or release them, we have but one choice: Call them monsters and isolate them.

When it comes to the sexual sadist, psychiatric diagnoses won't protect us. Appeasement endangers us. Rehabilitation is a joke.

I've spoken to many predators over the years. They always exhibit amazement that we do not hunt them. And that when we capture them, we eventually let them go. Our attitude is a deliberate interference with Darwinism -- an endangerment of our species.

A proper experiment produces answers. Experiments with sexual sadists have produced only victims. Washington State's sexual predator law will surely be challenged in the courts, and it may take years before constitutional and criminological criteria are established to incarcerate a criminal beyond his or her sentence.

Perhaps no-parole life sentences for certain sex crimes would be a more straightforward answer.

In any event, such laws offer our only hope against an epidemic of sexual violence that threatens to pollute our society beyond the possibility of its own rehabilitation.

Andrew Vachss, a lawyer who represents children, is author of a forthcoming novel, "Shella."

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