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Q&A: What Works in Sex-Offender Treatment

TIME speaks with Dr. Renee Sorrentino of Massachusetts' Institute for Sexual Wellness about sex-offender treatment and her work with pedophiles

By Maia Szalavitz @maiasz    June 10, 2013

At least 300,000 cases of child sex abuse are reported in the U.S. each year — and the real number of children who are molested is likely far higher. But while laws get tougher all the time, very little is known about how to treat sex offenders in order to prevent these crimes.

Dr. Renee Sorrentino is medical director of the Institute for Sexual Wellness in Massachusetts and a clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. TIME spoke with her about the research on sex-offender treatment and her work over the past 10 years with these difficult patients.


Taming the Beast Within

Can chemical castration help pedophiles control their desires?

by JANELLE NANOS· 2/25/2014, 4:56 a.m.

Boston Magazine 

The Institute for Sexual Wellness is located on the backside of a luxury apartment building in Quincy Center, facing the T stop and a municipal parking lot. There’s no sign out front, and the discreet location is difficult to find. The center’s founder, Renee Sorrentino, says this is by design. Sorrentino is a Boston University- and Harvard-trained forensic psychiatrist who treats chronically disturbed men—convicted pedophiles, rapists, exhibitionists, and voyeurs—for their deviant compulsions.

Many people doubt that convicted sex offenders can ever truly be cured, which has prompted states from Virginia to Oregon to pass laws making it even more difficult for them to get out of jail. But Sorrentino says deviant sexual disorders are like other mental diagnoses and can often be managed with meds and therapy. And she claims that she has a treatment for even the direst cases: chemical castration. Sorrentino believes that the procedure—a monthly injection of the drug Lupron—can radically curb men’s harmful desires, allowing them to return to quasi-normal lives. Widespread use of chemical castration could also protect potential victims, she says, because it would effectively neutralize the insidious compulsions that prompt men to act on their fantasies. Right now, she is one of only three doctors in Massachusetts who provide this treatment.