At 23 years old, a convicted child rapist could walk free after serving less than five years behind bars — all because he has gender dysphoria.
The argument for the decision is nothing short of absurd and alarming.
Here are the details
The attorney general of Iowa is reportedly no longer seeking the confinement of Joseph Matthew Smith, who now goes by “Josie,” because he has been taking transgender hormone treatments for the past two years, with plans to ultimately undergo gender reassignment surgery.
Lynn Hicks, a spokesperson for the attorney general, said that, since Smith has been taking hormone therapy since 2017, the state no longer has “evidence sufficient to prove Josie Smith has a significant chance of reoffending.”
A spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Corrections said Smith was transferred over the weekend to the Sioux City Residential Treatment Facility for transitional release. The official didn’t indicate when, exactly, Smith could be released.
As a small token of consolation, I suppose, Hicks said Smith “will be subject to strict sex-offender reporting” and “supervision” for the rest of his life. It’s gives little comfort, though, to those fearful of a man convicted of molesting as many as 15 victims, ranging in ages from 1 to 13.
Why it matters
The state’s own expert on the issue is even concerned.
Dr. Jeffrey Davis noted in his preliminary report that the likelihood Smith will offend again within the next five years is more than 20 percent.
“Mr. Smith has not had an intimate relationship,” the report stated. “His sexual encounters appear to have primarily involved molestation, including his own molestation by multiple perpetrators, or his victimization of others.”
Davis’ report recommended Smith be committed indefinitely to the Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders, but to do that, the state would have to prove Smith has more than a 50% chance or reoffending, according to Dr. Tracy Smith, a forensic psychologist and former clinical director of CCUSO.
According to The Des Moines Register, meeting that threshold with Smith is difficult because he no longer has “the sex drive of a man.”
A higher recidivism rate “becomes harder to prove when an offender significantly lowers his testosterone levels, which has a significantly higher impact on sex drive than estrogen,” the newspaper reported.
None of that should matter. Despite the word “sex” being in the phrase “sexual assault,” such crimes are rarely about sex; they are about power. And whether Smith is depleted of testosterone or pumped full of estrogen, his desire for power will be the same. The hurt that led him to offend in the first place will still be there, and neither chemical nor physical changes will undo that.
Dr. Elly Hanson, a clinical psychologist specializing in the fields of abuse and trauma, said sexual gratification can be a factor, but usually other motives — such as the desire to control, a longing for closeness, or a need to act out difficult, pent-up emotions — are at play.
“Most child abusers are not only sexually interested in children,” she said. “Children are often targeted for sexual abuse simply because they are usually more vulnerable than adults.”
This decision by Iowa — perhaps more than anything — calls into question the very reason(s) for incarceration and the prison system. Is the sole purpose to keep someone from potentially reoffending, or is it also to discipline them for their wrong behavior? I’d argue the answer to that question is yes; it’s both.
Just because the likelihood of reoffending might go down (and I’m not convinced that’s the case with Smith) doesn’t zero-out the price to be paid for the wrongs already committed. I might be cynical, but for Smith, this seems less about finding himself and more about gaming a society he knows is rigged in his favor.