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Doomed to fail?

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Title:
Doomed to fail? a discussion of existing sex offender laws from the perspective of the offender
Creator:
Noble, Rayelle M
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
viii, 95 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Sex offenders -- Attitudes ( lcsh )
Sex offenders -- Legal status, laws, etc ( lcsh )
Sex offenders -- Rehabilitation ( lcsh )
Sex offenders -- Attitudes ( fast )
Sex offenders -- Legal status, laws, etc ( fast )
Sex offenders -- Rehabilitation ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 92-95).
General Note:
School of Public Affairs
Statement of Responsibility:
by Rayelle M. Noble.

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Source Institution:
University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
50939427 ( OCLC )
ocm50939427
Classification:
LD1190.L50 2002m .N62 ( lcc )

Full Text
DOOMED TO FAIL? A DISCUSSION OF EXISTING SEX
OFFENDER LAWS FROM THE PERSPECTIVE
OF THE OFFENDER
by
Rayelle M. Noble
B.A., Northern Arizona University, 1995
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Criminal Justice
2002
~'T


2002 by Rayelle M. Noble
All rights reserved.


This thesis for the Master of Criminal Justice
degree by
Rayelle M. Noble
has been approved
by
Gerald Williams


Noble, Rayelle M. Noble (M.C.J., Criminal Justice)
Doomed to Fail? A Discussion of Existing Sex Offender Laws from the
Perspective of the Offender
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Mary Dodge
ABSTRACT
The existing laws regarding sex offenders concentrate on managing
convicted offenders within the community by imposing strict probationary,
parole, and treatment requirements. The social climate surrounding sex
offenders has placed immense pressure on legislators to comply with public
pressures in remedying the problem of sex offenders living in the community
while ensuring greater protection from further victimization. In response to this
pressure, legislators have implemented laws that provide smoke-screens, but
not viable or realistic solutions regarding public concerns. Furthermore, to date,
sex offenders are being faced with increasingly more punitive measures.
Consequently, many of the legal and treatment conditions they are required to
follow are counterproductive in sex offenders successfully reintegrating into the
community, border on violating individual rights, create an environment where
relapse is more likely, and offer little to the communities that are expecting these
laws to provide safer neighborhoods. This study focuses on the effect current
IV


legal and treatment requirement have on sex offenders. Data were collected
from face-to face interviews with 33 male sex offenders. The interviews
centered primarily on the following areas: public perception and the sex
offender label, finding employment, treatment requirements including polygraph
testing, sex offender registration, community notification, and motivations to
offend. The findings indicate that existing laws and requirements may escalate
stressors that contribute to the offenders inability to successfully reintegrate
into the community, reinforce the sex offender label, and produce an
environment where relapse is a greater probability. This research suggests that
further understanding is needed regarding the effects that existing and proposed
laws have on the whole picture including the victim and the community as well
as the offender. Without analyzing all components of the problem, policy
making will continue to be ineffective in managing sex offenders and protecting
citizens.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Signed
v


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to my mother, Donna Noble, my father, Jack Noble, and my
brother, Charles Noble for their continuous love, encouragement, and support
throughout my life. I would also like to thank Pat Noble, Heather Phillips, Jamie
Steffes, and Shayna Braunstein for your friendship and encouragement during this
important project. It is also important that I thank the crew at H. Ellis Armistead
and Associates, my co-workers and friends, for your ongoing support and flexibility
during the completion of my graduate career.


ACKNOWLEDGMENT
Research for this thesis would not have been possible without the support and
flexibility of Walter Simon and his staff at Progressive Therapy Systems. I am
greatly appreciative for your cooperation and patience during this past year.
In addition, I would also like to extend my appreciation to the volunteers of this
study. Thank you for your participation and your candidness in expressing your
individual stories to me. The information you provided during the interviews is
what made this thesis possible.
Thank you, Dr. Mary Dodge, for being an outstanding professor and academic
advisor. Your encouragement, support, and energy have continually inspired me
over the past two years. I would like to thank Dr. Mark Pogrebin for his guidance
academically and professionally in my career as well as his support throughout my
graduate experience. My appreciation also extends to Dr. Gerald Williams for his
support and direction in the completion of my thesis.


CONTENTS
Tables
A. Consequences of Notification....................................31
B. Table of Offenses...............................................39
Chapter
1. Introduction.....................................................1
2. Purpose of Study.................................................5
3. Literature Review................................................7
3.1 The Origin of the Sex Offender..................................10
3.2 Treatment Philosophy and Requirements...........................12
3.3 Polygraph Examinations..........................................15
3.4 Sex Offender Registration.......................................20
3.5 Community Notification Laws.....................................24
3.6 The Myths and Misconceptions About Sex Offenders................32
4. Methodology.....................................................36
5. Findings........................................................41
5.1 Dirty Old Man in a Trench Coat..................................44
5.2 To Disclose or Not to Disclose?.................................47
5.3 Family Business.................................................49
vi


5.4 Out of the Loop: Dealing with the Changing Laws..................53
5.5 A Lifetime Ordeal: Sex Offender Registration.....................58
5.6 In the Limelight: Community Notification Laws....................61
5.7 The Incurable Disease?...........................................65
5.8 Perspectives on the Polygraph Examinations.......................72
5.9 Reasons Sex Offenders Offend or Re-Offend........................77
5.9.1 Loneliness and Isolation.........................................77
5.9.2 Feeling Different................................................78
5.9.3 Inability to Form and Maintain Healthy Relationships.............78
5.9.4 Low Self-Esteem..................................................78
5.9.5 Anger............................................................79
5.9.6 Stress...........................................................79
5.9.7 Past Abuse and Conditioned Beliefs about Women...................80
6. Conclusion.......................................................81
Appendix
A. Consent Form.....................................................87
B. Demographic Worksheet............................................89
C. Guideline Semi-Structured Interviews.............................91
References..............................................................92
vii


TABLES
Table
3.5 Consequences of Noti fication...................................31
4.0 Table of Offenses...............................................39
viii


1.
Introduction
The term sex offender has been used for decades to explain a type of
criminal who commits offenses of a sexual and sometimes violent nature against
their victims. Although the typical definition of what characterizes someone as a
sex offender is relatively simple, there has been little agreement in the past, and
even during the present era, on what offenses should be deemed as merely deviant
and what offenses are truly of a criminal nature. In evaluation of what is offensive
and threatening to the social and moral foundation of society, many people agree
that the sex offender is the most immoral and perverse of all criminal types.
Although there is a wide spectrum of crimes that are defined by the law as
sexual offenses, the public places sex offenders into limited categories of
pedophiles, child molesters, and rapists. Often, these images are perpetuated by the
media in news stories that describe vile and reprehensible cases resulting in the
public fearing that sex offenders are lurking behind every dark comer. The
possibility, therefore, of having a sex offender living next door can be a frightening
proposition. It is an idea that is so difficult to digest that public outrage directed
towards the integration of paroled sex offenders into the community has been
instrumental in the creation of a new social movement. The reality, however, is that
the extreme and sensational cases portrayed in the media are rare. Sexual offenses
1


range from the most severe crimes such as rape and child molestation to minor
offenses such as indecent exposure. Regardless of whether their sexual offense is
severe or minor, however, they cannot escape being labeled a sex offender, and in
turn experiencing the potentially stigmatizing effects such a label places upon them.
It is important to examine not only the existing sex offender laws and the
stigmatizing effect they have on all sex offenders, but also whether these laws
unjustly create harsher and more severe punishment for offenders who have
committed only minor sexual offenses.
The immense public pressure placed on legislators has resulted in the
implementation of new sex offender laws and treatment requirements, such as sex
offender registration, community notification, and the use of polygraphs in
treatment, which are expected to empower and protect private citizens against
further victimization. Often, these laws are merely a knee-jerk reaction whereby
legislators are responding to the emotional climate and public pressure to do
something about the problem rather than thoroughly investigating the actual effects
current sex offender legislation has on the broader picture.
Several pertinent questions must be addressed regarding existing and
proposed laws in relation to the management of paroled sex offenders. Do these
laws bring us any closer to understanding sex offenders or divert us from receiving
accurate knowledge of individuals who commit these crimes? Do these new laws
provide communities with the proposed goal of a sense of safety and control over
2


their surroundings or do they provide nothing more than a false sense of security?
Can we expect these laws to reduce recidivism or do they simply move the problem
and create greater pressures that lead sex offenders to relapse? How do these laws
affect offenders, their families, victims, and the community as a whole?
Recent trends, however, in sex offender management legislation have
focused on .some realities of the problem to the exclusion of others by dismissing
or ignoring potential linkages between the intended and unintended effects of such
legislation and the broader reality of sexual abuse itself(Presser and Gunnison,
1999, p. 303). Previous research has focused primarily on examining the impact
sex crimes have on victims and the impact sex offender legislation has on the
community. While understanding these issues are extremely important when
implementing new laws, little information is available regarding the effects these
laws have on the individual sex offender. The reluctance to evaluate this component
results in laws that are ineffective in reaching the goals of protection, safety, and
order in our communities, and may actually create an environment where offenders
are more likely to re-offend.
This study does not ignore or diminish the tragic impact sex offenders have
on their victims, nor is there any disagreement that the main goal of sex offender
legislation should be to protect innocent citizens from being victimized. In order to
implement effective laws regarding sex offenders, however, and provide an
increased level of protection from further victimization, all components of the
3


problem need to be understood. In addition, a willingness to hear the concerns and
impact these laws have not only from the perspective of victims and the community
but from the offenders as well represents a crucial element in policy making.
4


2. Purpose of Study
The implementation of news laws regarding sex offenders has raised many
issues that may benefit from empirical research on the psychological make-up and
motivation of sex offenders. In addition, further analysis is needed regarding the
impact these statutes and treatment requirements have on the ability for individuals
convicted of sex offenses to integrate successfully back into the community. The
more knowledge we have about sex offenders the better we are able to treat,
manage, and reduce further victimization. Moreover, the goal of protecting
community safety should not be at the price of violating individual rights. By
educating ourselves about the problem, a more balanced approach can exist
between protecting communities from victimization as well as protecting the rights
of individuals who are labeled sex offenders.
Studies suggest that sex offenders relapse because of specific stressors in
their lives, which in turn, trigger a behavioral response such as committing acts of
violence as a way to release or cope with anxieties (Edwards and Hensley, 2001).
Many of the recent trends in dealing with sex offenders have the potential to label,
stigmatize, shame, isolate, and lower the self-esteem of persons convicted of sex
offenses (Edwards and Hensley, 2001). These negative emotional states may
exacerbate stressors known to the sex offender, which often results in the offender
5


relapsing. Understanding the effects these laws have on the recidivism rates of sex
offenders serves the ultimate goal of increasing public safety.
6


3.
Literature Review
Nationally, the increasing number of punitive laws for sex offenders has
raised concerns over whether or not the nature of these laws result in civil liberties
being compromised or ignored. Approximately 13 states, for example, have enacted
civil commitment procedures for sex offenders, which allow the judicial system to
sentence a sex offender to a prison term and then rule that the offender involuntarily
be committed to a mental health facility after serving their prison sentence (Falk,
1999). In addition, chemical castration also has been used to render sex offenders
incapable of future victimization.
The high degree of fear surrounding the release of sex offenders into the
community has motivated the public to put pressure on legislators to create new
laws that will increase the level of neighborhood safety. Lobbyists for harsher
restrictions on paroled sex offenders advocate statutes that appear to provide
communities with a sense of control over their environment. As a result, legislators
have succumbed to the pressures and passed statutes that require sex offenders to
register with law enforcement and take polygraphs as part of their treatment. In
addition, certain sexual perpetrators may be subjected to community notification in
which individuals residing in the same neighborhood as a sex offender are notified
of their crimes.
7


On a state level, numerous statutes have been implemented in managing
convicted sex offenders. Colorado, the site of this research study, for example,
established strict legal mandates for convicted sex offenders. As early as 1992, the
Colorado General Assembly created the Sex Offender Treatment Board (the name
was later changed to the Sex Offender Management Board, hereinafter SOMB) to
develop standards and guidelines for the assessment, evaluation, treatment, and
behavioral monitoring of sex offenders (Colorado Sex Offender Management
Board, 1999, p. 1). This event signified the goal of the Colorado criminal justice
system to create successful statewide sex offender supervision and management
programs. The introduction of the SOMB, however, was also responsible for the
snowballing process of implementation of new strategies for the purpose of
increasing the level of containment of sex offenders. In 1994, a statewide committee
of probation officers developed guidelines for the treatment and management of
offenders under community supervision, which included the adoption of intensive
probation conditions for adult sex offenders (Colorado Sex Offender Management
Board, 1999). Furthermore, in 1994, the legislature enacted a requirement for
convicted sex offenders to register with local law enforcement within seven days of
their release (Colorado Sex Offender Management Board, 1999). New statutes
governing the management of sex offenders not only changes how the community
handles sex offenders in their neighborhood, but also impacts how the judicial
system, law enforcement, and treatment providers deal with the public pressures,
8


increased workload, and scrutiny these laws require of them (Zevitz and Farkas,
2000a).
In understanding the scope of the issues surrounding the integration of
convicted sex offenders into the community it is important to examine how these
new laws and treatment requirements affect individuals convicted of sex offenses.
In the quest to diminish public fear regarding sex offenders living in the community,
the individual offender has become an invisible component of the equation. Several
recent statutes and treatment requirements have been criticized simply because they
violate the rights of individuals convicted of sex offenses. Furthermore, some laws
do little to provide solutions to the problem of managing sex offenders, create a
false sense of safety among the public, and impact the success rate of offenders
reintegrating back into society. It encourages communities to focus on the label
placed on the individual as a sex offender rather than understanding the person as
a whole (Edwards and Hensley, 2001; Walsh, 1990).
The present study incorporates literature that specifically examines the
effects recent laws and treatment requirements have on individuals convicted of sex
offenses and the community as a whole. This includes discussion of existing
treatment requirements, community notification, sex offender registration, as well as
how these areas impact the psychological, economical, and mental state of the
offender.
9


3.1 The Origin of the Sex Offender
The sex offender is a complex classification of individuals who engage in
sexual behaviors that a society has deemed to be abnormal or deviant. All
societies and cultures set standards of acceptable and unacceptable behavior to be
followed by members (Holmes, 1991). Personal standards of normalcy set by
individuals, however, may contradict those set by the larger population. Conflicts
emerge within larger societies when other factors such as religious, cultural, and
personal standards deviate from the standards of the majority (Holmes, 1992).
In the United States, laws help create standards of what is normal and
acceptable behavior. In relation to sex crimes, the law has encompassed a wide
range of sexual behaviors, ranging from less harmful acts such as indecent exposure
to more serious crimes such as rape and child molestation, into one classification.
Individuals who have been convicted of sexual offenses are labeled as abnormal and
deviant by the law and are therefore seen as abnormal and deviant by the larger
population. According to Ronald M. Holmes, author of Sex Crimes (1991),
individuals who operate outside the acceptable parameters of sex, and violate the
law, society has judged them to be not only out of the normal but criminal as well
(P-16).
Many researchers who have studied sexual deviance and sex offenders have
adopted a set of indicators to access whether an individual fits the mold of a sex
10


offender. According to Holmes (1991), offenders often display the following
behaviors or characteristics:
1) Fantasy: While sexual fantasies are a normal human experience,
sex offenders often engage in bizarre fantasies that to the
average person are quite abnormal. An adult male, for example,
becoming aroused by fantasizing about adolescent girls is one
type of fantasy that expands beyond normalcy.
2) Symbolism: Sexual symbolism is characterized as a fetish a
person has for inanimate object to which sexual feelings have
been attached. Again, it is normal and common for males to have
some type of fetish. A fetish that would be considered abnormal,
in that the average person would not experience sexual feelings
from the behavior, for example, is a rapist who becomes
erotically aroused whenever he climbs through a window to
burglarize and then rape a female resident.
3) Ritualism: With sex offenders the element of ritualism is one
that has increased almost to the point of addiction. Holmes
describes a situation in which a nine year old reads a book of
pornography that depicts a sadistic rape. Nine years later, as a
college freshman, he raped his first victim. He forced her to say
words that were spoken by the raped female in the story he read
as a child. With each subsequent rape, he forced the victim to
repeat the same words and sentences that he learned as a child. In
ritualism, the sexual acts have to be performed in the same
fashion and often in the same sequence.
4) Compulsion: Most sex offenders feel an overwhelming urge to
commit their offenses. The word compulsion can cause the
public to believe that a sex offender will always give into their
sexually deviant urges and therefore, can never be rehabilitated.
While it is true that if a sex offender does not receive adequate
treatment, the likelihood of re-offending is extremely high. An
offender who learns healthy ways to cope with their compulsions
through treatment is less likely to re-offend than other criminal
types, such as drug offenders.
11


A common theoretical explanation of what motivates a person to commit
sexual crimes is one that is based on the offender having been sexually victimized
during childhood and who is thereby repeating this cycle by becoming the
perpetrator in adult life (Pryor, 1996). The make-up of a sex offender is more
complex than one theory alone could explain. An effective treatment program
examines all elements that contribute to a person committing sexual offenses and
treats the individual for the unique experiences and beliefs that may cause him or
her to sexually victimize others rather than pigeonholing the offenders behaviors.
3.2 Treatment Philosophy and Requirements
Although treatment requirements vary from state to state, there are common
threads found in the majority of treatment programs for convicted sex offenders.
Most sex offenders are required to participate in therapy for a specific period of
time. Sex offender oriented treatment typically consists of aiding offenders in
understanding motivations behind their crimes and the triggers that may cause
them to relapse. To achieve this goal, offenders must disclose their sexual histories
including all sex offenses they have committed, and learn behavioral modification
techniques as a tool in controlling and interrupting triggers that might escalate into
violent and antisocial behavior (Marshall and Eccles, 1991; Schwartz, 1995).
An important aspect to sex offender oriented treatment is to reduce the
defense mechanisms of denial and isolation that are commonly found in persons
who engage in crimes of a sexually violent nature (Colorado Sex Offender
12


Management Board, 1999; Strate et al., 1996). In order for the offender to
successfully complete treatment they must acknowledge and take responsibility for
their crimes and disclose inappropriate and criminal sexual behaviors.
According to Cummings and Buell (1997), there are five essential goals of
sex offender treatment:
1) Developing victim empathy: the goal being to educate offenders
on the effects of sexual abuse on victims. Treatment will assess
the level of empathy through the offenders ability to recognize
and express emotional responses and communicate appropriate
empathy.
2) Controlling sexual arousal: treatment will provide offenders with
the ability to control, reduce, or eliminate deviant sexual arousal
as well as assist offenders in developing, maintaining, and
strengthening of appropriate sexual arousal.
3) Improving social competence: treatment will address social
deficits that can contribute to the offenders relapse patterns.
This would also include assisting offenders in establishing
appropriate and healthy relationships with other adults.
4) Developing relapse prevention skills: treatment will assist
offenders to recognize deviant sexual behaviors, learn triggers
that lead to relapse, and develop and evaluate coping strategies.
5) Establishing supervision conditions and networks: the therapist
will aid probation or parole officers in identifying high-risk
factors and resources to effectively supervise sex offenders.
In 1997, Karl Hanson and Andrew Harris conducted research on dynamic
predictors of sexual re-offense. The following factors were significantly associated
with re-offense: excuses/justifications, low victim empathy, sexual entitlement,
attitudes tolerant of rape, attitudes tolerant of child molesting, sexual risk factors
13


(e.g., pornography, excessive masturbation, deviant sexual fantasies, preoccupation
with sex), access to victims, and negative social influences (Sex Offender
Management Board, 1999).
Sex offender treatment providers have the challenge of not only identifying
attitudes and behaviors such as the ones described above, but to also assist the
offender in observing and altering these behaviors in themselves to more healthy
attitudes and behaviors. Most sex offender treatment programs focus primarily on a
cognitive-behavioral approach which includes the following basic concepts: (1)
beliefs organize thoughts, (2) thoughts determine feelings and behaviors, (3) beliefs
and thoughts are under ones voluntary control, and (4) correcting irrational
thoughts and modifying self-statements can change feelings and behaviors (Marques
et al., 2000, p. 329). In addition to assisting sex offenders in changing core beliefs
that contribute to deviant behavior, treatment must motivate offenders to want to
change their behaviors.
There are a variety of factors that can influence the level of motivation sex
offenders have in desiring to change their beliefs and sexually deviant behaviors.
Some sex offenders, for example, do not believe that their behavior is undesirable or
that their victims are affected by their actions. It is also important to examine the
effects the common public perception of sex offenders as a population of criminals
who are incurable and unresponsive to treatment, has on the motivational level of
sex offenders during the process of their treatment.
14


In addition to educating sex offenders on how to change their cognitive and
behavioral distortions and motivating behavioral changes, an effective treatment
program must also assist sex offenders in relapse prevention and transitioning back
into the community after they have served their sentence (McGrath, 1991; Laws et
al., 2000). Research suggests that sex offenders are less likely to relapse when
participating in an aftercare program that deals with issues of transitioning back into
the community, stressors and fears associated with this transition, and managing
high-risk situations (Laws et al, 2000). Moreover, aftercare programs should assist
sex offenders with acquiring adequate housing, occupational or vocational plans,
and the establishment of social support services prior to releasing an offender back
into the community.
3.3 Polygraph Examinations
Legal debate over the use of polygraph exams within the criminal justice
system surfaced approximately 80 years ago, when polygraph exams were first
introduced as a tool in determining the culpability of a person facing criminal
charges (Cooley-Towell et al., 2000). The reliability of polygraph exams has been
a source of much concern among judicial officials and criminologists. Despite this
concern, polygraph exams continue to be used in a variety of situations concerning
legal strategy, determining probationary compliance, and more recently in the
managing paroled sex offenders.
15


Although legal and judicial support of polygraph testing of sex offenders as
part of their treatment and probationary requirements varies from state to state and
from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, it is rapidly becoming a popular tool in determining
a sex offenders patterns, current offending behaviors, and potential to re-offend
(Pullen et al., 1996). Thus, the primary concept behind using polygraphs in sex
offender-oriented treatment is to investigate deceptive behavior and provide
increased protection to the community. Currently, a growing number of states
mandate the use of polygraphs as part of sex offender treatment programs for the
purpose of maintaining control over the activities and behaviors of sex offenders
once released into the community. The Colorado Sex Offender Management Board
(1999) defined three types of polygraph examinations that are required of offenders
as part of their treatment and probationary conditions: sexual history examination,
specific issue examination, and maintenance or monitoring examination.
The sexual history examination is usually completed within the first 90 days
of an offender being admitted to treatment. The sexual history examination allows
treatment providers and probation officials to have complete and accurate
information for assessing the offenders background and verifying the sexual
offenses committed. Feelings of denial and secrecy experienced during the onset of
sex offender treatment often results in many offenders to be unsuccessful in passing
their first sexual history examination. This examination requires a full-disclosure of
a persons sexual past including details about the extent in which the offender
16


abused the victim of conviction, description of the abuse, specific forms of sexual
contact with the victim, and how long the abuse lasted (Pullen et al., 1996). In
addition to discussing details of the crime for which the offender was convicted, the
sexual history examination probes into other incidents of sexual crimes and
additional victims
The specific-issue examination is used primarily to obtain information
regarding a specific behavior, allegation, or event. This examination also focuses on
specific patterns or risk factors that have been found to lead an offender to commit
additional sexual offenses. An offender, for example, who has a previous history of
exposing himself to teenage girls, is granted a visit with his eight-year old daughter.
A specific issue examination may be administered to the offender after the visit has
been completed to determine whether the offender sexually abused the daughter or
if he entertained sexually inappropriate thoughts while visiting with her.
The maintenance or monitoring examination is used to verify whether a
probationer or parolee is complying with the term and conditions of supervision and
cooperating with treatment expectations since the last polygraph exam was
administered. According to ODonnell (2000), monitoring exams serve several
distinct functions including; discovering problems such as a convicted child
molester having unsupervised contact with children, encouraging rule compliance,
and increasing self-disclosure in therapy. Studies show that sex offenders are more
likely to disclose non-compliance and sexually deviant behaviors prior to a
17


polygraph examination (ODonnell, 2000). This may be due to the heightened level
of anxiety about their behaviors being disclosed during the polygraph and therefore
receiving a deceptive outcome.
One study, conducted by the Colorado Department of Corrections Sex
Offender Treatment Program, found that sex offenders disclosed more victims with
the use of polygraphs as part of their treatment requirements. The program
collected data in 1998 on the number of known victims of the first 36 sex offenders
to participate in two polygraph evaluations (Colorado Sex Offender Management
Board, 1999). According to this study, on average, for each offender there were two
known victims documented in official records. After the first polygraph exam
inmates disclosed on average 165 victims per offender. By the second polygraph
exam the same inmates, on average, disclosed 184 victims per offender (Colorado
Sex Offender Management Board, 1999). These crimes included hands-on sex
offenses such as rape and pedophilia, as well as hands-off sex offenses such as
exhibitionism, voyeurism, and obscene phone calls. Approximately 80 percent of
these offenders were still deceptive on their polygraph examinations, suggesting that
even more offenses were committed (Colorado Sex Offender Management Board,
1999). Such studies have increased support for the use of polygraphs as a tool to
encourage sex offenders to disclose the extent and seriousness of their offenses.
Typically, maintenance polygraph exams are conducted every six months or
when there is suspicion that the probationer is not following conditions set forth by
18


the court. In Colorado, there must be two or more consecutive non-deceptive
polygraphs before an offender is assessed for purposes of terminating treatment
(Colorado Sex Offender Management Board, 1999).
Despite the benefits the use of polygraph exams offers to treatment providers
and probationary officials in monitoring and managing paroled sex offenders, there
are a number of areas that elicit concern. First, there is a lack of regulatory
standards to ensure the proper use of polygraphs as an assessment tool in treatment.
In addition, the lack of standards and guidelines provide polygraph examiners with
high levels of discretion regarding the manner in which the test is administered, the
construction of questions, interviewing strategies, and the interpretation of the data.
Furthermore, there are several gray areas. A person completing a polygraph
session, for example, can either receive a non-deceptive, deceptive, or inconclusive
result. Receiving an inconclusive result, however, is viewed as deceptive just as
much as the person who directly obtains a deceptive result. Furthermore, there is
tremendous temptation for providers and judicial officials to use the data collected
from polygraphs as a means of social control or punishment such as using deceptive
results as the primary reason to revoke ones probation.
Second, there are a variety of external factors that may affect the outcome of
a polygraph such as the examiners expertise in the area of sex offender supervision
and treatment (Abrams, 1991), his or her experience (Horvath, 1977),
professionalism, accountability, objectivity (Pullen et al., 1996), and even the tone
19


of voice and manner in which questions are read. Moreover, severe mental
disorders, mental retardation, medical conditions, anxiety disorders, drug or alcohol
intoxication, not understanding the questions asked, and bodily movements and
twitches can all disturb the accuracy of the polygraph examination results (Abrams,
1989; Lundell and Holmes, 1993). In order to evaluate and correct unprofessional
or improper actions or behavior on the part of the examiner, polygraph exams
should be videotaped and examiners should be held accountable for misuse by an
objective third party supervising the polygrapher.
3.4 Sex Offender Registration
It was the old idea of the brand all over again, though it took the form of this
blacklist instead of the old scarlet letter from New England. There was little
thought of doing anything to rehabilitate these people or even to protect
society from them. The emphasis was merely to have them branded and
filed, Gestapo style, so that they could be hounded and cracked down upon
when the public mood so demanded. Why not bum them at the stake?
Saves transportation. (Jenkins, 1998, p. 201).
In most states, sex offenders are required to register with law enforcement
for the purpose of tracking offenders. This information also is available to the
community if residents actively seek information from local law enforcement. Sex
offender registration was implemented as a means of social control for the police
and to create a greater sense of safety among communities.
In the book, Managing Adult Offenders: A Containment Approach (1996),
the authors argue that in order for registration to be effective in providing added
protection to citizens, the following five components must exist:
20


1) Criminal justice oversight and enforcement: The burden of
ensuring that a sex offender is registered falls on a specific
agency rather than on the offender itself.
2) Consequences to the offender for failure to register: This is
based on the notion that without sanctions, offenders will have
little motivation to register.
3) Lifelong registration: The authors argue that because it is
generally accepted that there is no cure for sexual offending
behavior, and for the purpose of public safety and law
enforcement efficacy, offenders should be required to renew
registration for the course of their life.
4) Statewide accessibility to appropriate criminal justice personnel
of registration information: According to the authors, this would
allow the matching of new crimes against records of registered
offenders. Furthermore, the accessibility of information among
criminal justice agencies would allow greater control over
monitoring compliance with registration laws.
5) Registration requirements for offenders who move into the state:
Sex offenders are typically characterized as a mobile
population. Some states, such as Washington, have dealt with
this issue by requiring sex offenders to register within 30 days of
establishing residence in the state (p. 4).
Research suggests that the contextual flaws in the sex offender registration
process are counterproductive to achieving these goals. First, typically persons
involved in criminal activity tend to be a very mobile population. Law enforcement
has neither the time and/or resources to continuously monitor an offenders pattern
of registration. The idea of registration gives the public a false sense of security
that law enforcement has the ability to track all sex offenders. Second, registration
does not deter sex offenders from committing crimes in neighborhoods where they
21


are not registered. Third, both of these aspects may result in a diminished sense of
safety and control when the community realizes that registration does little to
protect them from being victimized.
Most importantly, there is question of whether registration information is
accurate and timely. For example, under a Colorado Supreme Court ruling, 127
convicted sex offenders were released from prison after being confined for unjust
parole violations (Abbott, 2001). Under the same ruling, another 294 convicted sex
offenders, who have already served their prison terms will be discharged without
parole supervision. Furthermore, 1142 sex offenders now serving prison sentences
will not be subject to mandatory parole when they are released (Abbott, 2001).
Colorado requires that all sex offenders register with police agencies within 72
hours of being released from prison. In addition, beginning in July of 2001, failing
to register is considered a felony and punishable up to 18 months in prison.
Approximately one week after the Colorado Supreme Court confirmed the
ruling, 71 sex offenders were released from Colorado prisons. Panic set in when
state law enforcement officials claimed that they could not know with certainty
where the 71 sex offenders were residing. In Colorados efforts to track down and
arrest convicted sex offenders who failed to register, it was discovered that out of
8,421 convicted sex offenders in the state, records reflected that 320 had not
registered. In addition, out of the 71 sex offenders released from prison as a result
of the Colorado Supreme Court ruling, records reflected that as many as 41 had not
22


registered with local law enforcement. A list of all unregistered sex offenders was
posted on the Colorado Bureau Investigations website for tracking purposes. The
list, however, was soon removed because CBI officials stated: They lost
confidence in the information they were posting (Sanko, 2001, p. 5A). Officials
were finding that the initial 41 sex offenders who had not registered was dwindling,
and that the majority of offenders had, in fact, complied with the states registration
laws. In addition, State of Colorado auditors found flaws in the registry system used
to keep track of sex offenders. One legislative auditor concluded:
Colorados system of keeping track of convicted sex offenders is
seriously flawed. Citizens cannot be sure that the registries they are
examining are accurate. Our audit work showed that it is unlikely
that Colorado citizens now receive comprehensive, accurate and
timely information on the sex offenders living in their communities
through the current system of local registries (Ensslin, 2001, p.2A).
The discrepancies in the numbers associated with unregistered sex offenders
in Colorado can partly be blamed on a lack of communication and organization
between agencies. Local law enforcement departments are responsible for
maintaining sex offender registries and updating information as well as forwarding
current lists to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. It is further assumed that all
local law enforcement departments will take the registry seriously. The sex
offender registry requires an enormous amount of work and constant maintenance
by law enforcement officials to be successful and accurate. Colorado Bureau of
Investigations spokesman, Mike Igoe, stated:
23


Part of the problem was that the offenders are fanning out to 340
police and sheriffs agencies statewide, many with limited resources.
Each jurisdiction is responsible for its own registration. There is no
statewide registry, though the local lists are forwarded to a CBI
database (Ensslin, 2001, p. 5A).
Based on the research, sex offender registration does little to protect citizens
from further victimization because the registry is unable to realistically track all
offenders and does not protect citizens from sex offenders who have yet to be
caught by law enforcement or who have simply moved their crimes into another
area. Furthermore, there are no specific standards that regulate how local law
enforcement agencies maintain sex offender registries and many departments lack
the necessary resources to track down non-complying offenders. These flaws
combined with the limitations that sex offender registries have in protecting citizens
resulted in the general perception that registration alone is inadequate to protect the
public from released sex offenders. Thus, the idea of community notification was
bom.
3.5 Community Notification Laws
Sex offenders are habitual perpetrators who cannot be cured. This myth is
the ammunition used to advocate for harsher punishment and stricter probationary
and parole conditions in relation to sex offenders. Consequently, the question
raised is whether the system is convicting and punishing sex offenders for the crime
they committed or for crimes they will probably commit? American courts require
the presence of both mens rea (guilty mind) and actus reus (voluntary act) to
24


convict an individual of a crime (Falk, 1999). Thus, punishment cannot exceed
reasonable limits based on an offenders probability of re-offending nor can persons
be sanctioned for their thoughts or emotions alone. The primary goal of community
notification laws, for example, is to manage sex offenders in the community through
public supervision for the purpose of discouraging individuals from re-offending.
Representative Watt of North Carolina offered the following critique of community
notification laws:
It improperly punishes a person for a crime after he had paid his debt
to society. It also creates a presumption of guilt, in that every person
convicted of a sexual offense was now presumed guilty of new
offenses. It is simply un-American (Filler, 2001, p. 19).
In addition, notification laws can conceivably be argued against because the
retroactive nature of the bill would implicate Ex Post Facto Clause concerns. The
Constitutions Ex Post Facto Clause prohibits a legislature from increasing a
penalty for an offender after he has committed a crime (Filler, 2001).
The enactment of community notification laws was in response to the 1994
rape and murder of a seven-year old New Jersey girl by a violent repeat sex offender
living anonymously across the street. This incident sparked federal legislators to
pass community notification statutes. Community notification laws authorize or
require local communities to be informed of sex offenders residing in their
neighborhood. The basic philosophy surrounding the enactment of notification laws
is that by increasing community awareness, parents will be able to inform their
25


children about who is dangerous and whom to avoid (Edwards and Hensley, 2001,
p. 88). In addition, it is believed that such laws will reduce the likelihood that the
sexual offender will re-offend because of the publics knowledge of his crimes,
which in turn, would cause the offender to have greater difficulty luring a potential
victim.
Research demonstrates that notification laws provide a false sense of
security to residents within the community. First, by notifying residents of a sex
offender living in their community it creates the impression that by having this
knowledge they are safe from sexual predators. Law enforcement does not have the
resources to make certain or track down sex offenders who may have moved and
neglected to register. Residents who have been notified by law enforcement of
sexual predators living in their communities may be at even greater risk of
victimization because they are more likely to avoid only the individual who has
been identified to them as a sex offender (Edwards and Hensley, 2001). As a
result of this false sense of security, they may respond by letting their guard down
with other members of the community who are equally as dangerous, but have not
been identified by law enforcement as sex offenders either because they have not
been convicted, or they do not fit the criteria that notification laws may require. In
addition, it does not protect the community from sexual predators who commit
crimes outside of the neighborhood in which they are a known sex offender.
26


Researchers have also found that the vast majority of abuse occurs within the
home, and that the majority of sexual abuse continues to go unreported (Edwards
and Hensley, 2001). Unfortunately, notification laws are likely to increase the
popular misconception that sexual abuse is mostly a stranger problem. When this
occurs, parental attention is focused toward the stranger offender and away from
the familial environment where the majority of sexual abuse occurs (Edwards and
Hensley, 2001).
In addition, some studies demonstrate that community notification laws can
have a negative impact on recidivism rates of paroled sex offenders. In a study
conducted by Zevitz and Farkas (2000c), 30 paroled sex offenders who were
subjected to community notification were interviewed regarding the impact
community notification had on their lives. Of the 30 sex offenders interviewed,
only a few believed that community notification laws would prevent re-offending by
making their actions more visible to the public. The majority of participants
believed, based on their own experiences with community notification, that the law
could worsen the already immense pressure offenders feel trying to reintegrate back
into a community that has been made aware of their crimes. Most of the sex
offenders interviewed believed that the pressure placed upon them by the public and
the media would cause them to re-offend (Zevitz and Farkas, 2000c). As one
offender stated:
27


If you have any familiarity with links and patterns of the cycle of
sexual offense, much of it revolves around an individual being under
pressure and his behavior under pressure. Well, there is no more
pressure than be exploited by the media, the people you work with,
the people you live with, relatives, and so the pressure is constantly
there. And because theyre [sex offenders] miserable, then that
would put them in that cycle to recommit an offense (Zevitz and
Farkas, 2000c, p. 388).
The notoriety created by the notification process has resulted in not only
harassment from others, but also the inability or loss of residence and employment,
stress on family relationships, and loss of intimate relationships. The support of
family and friends is essential in the sex offender reintegrating successfully back
into society and being able to resist the temptation to re-offend. This is particularly
true for offenders who have committed their crimes against children. Typically,
these offenders are unable to foster relationships with adults, and therefore, turn to
children for support and companionship. Community notification laws increase the
level of isolation, which could cause some sex offenders to have a greater
probability of developing inappropriate relationships with children.
In the book, Managing Adult Sex Offenders: A Containment Approach
(1996), the authors evaluated the benefits and problems associated with community
notification laws. According to the authors, the benefits of community notification
include the potential for improving relationships within the community, forging
partnerships between criminal justice agencies and the public, and improving public
education (Pullen et al., 1996). It can be argued, however, that the benefits can only
28


exist when community notification laws are well thought out, clearly stated, and
presented in a manner that allows for greater public awareness and strengthening of
relationships among community members and between the community and law
enforcement. The majority of research conducted on community notification,
however, suggests that this law gives the public a false sense of hope that something
is being done to protect them from further victimization. Consequently, when
another person is sexually victimized within the community the publics trust in law
enforcement deteriorates.
Another concern regarding community notification is the potential to
victimize non-offending citizens. For instance, in a situation where the public is
notified of a sex offender who molested his own child, the victim is also exposed to
the community, which can result in further trauma. This is also true for a non-
familial offenders child who often face extremely difficult questions and
harassment from their peers when the offenders crimes have been made public. In
Colorado, for example, nearly half (45.8 %) of sexual assaults that receive court
dispositions are interfamilial cases, therefore, the probability that the identity of an
incest victim will be disclosed to the public during the community notification
process is quite likely (Pullen et al., 1996). In the study by Zevitz and Farkas
(2000b), offenders discussed the negative impact community notification had on
their families, one interviewee talked of his mothers anguish and depression
following newspaper accounts stemming from notification. Another spoke of his
29


sons decision to quit his high school football team because of ridicule from
teammates (p. 9). Recent reports from New Jersey (where notification laws were
first enacted) as well as in Colorado suggests a decrease in the reporting of both
incest offenses and juvenile sexual offenses by victims and by family members who
do not want to deal with the impact of public notification on their family (Edwards
and Hensley, 2001).
Finally, community notification may also result in the public taking matters
into their own hands by harassing, threatening, and/or committing vigilante acts
against a known sex offender. A sex offenders residence, for example, was burned
down in Oregon. In New Jersey, a father and son went to a residence of a person
they assumed to be a sex offender, but ended up assaulting the wrong man
(Cumming and Buell, 1997). Another incident in Oregon involved a resident
handing out flyers to the neighbors of a convicted sex offender (Pullen et al., 1996).
In the study by Zevitz and Farkas (2000b), the authors concluded:
Seventy-seven percent of interviewed sex offenders told of being
humiliated in their daily lives, ostracized by neighbors, and harassed
or threatened by neighbors or strangers. Although only one
interviewee was on the receiving end of what might be described as a
vigilante action, all expressed various concerns of their own safety
(p. 9).
Derived from research conducted by Zevitz and Farkas (2000b), the
following table documents the consequences of notification for sex offenders:
30


Table 3.5 Consequences of Notification
Problem Percentage Reporting
Exclusion of Residence 83%
Threats/harassment 77%
Emotional harm to family members 67%
Ostracized by neighbors/acquaintances 67%
Loss of employment 57%
Added pressure from probation/parole 50%
Vigilante attack 3%
While it is understandable that few people have sympathy for sex offenders
who have been subjected to harassing, threatening, and vigilante acts committed by
residents it is important not to ignore the effects societal reactions may have on the
offenders psychological state, ability to successfully reintegrate back into the
community, and the potential the offender will re-offend.
According to Zevitz and Farkas (2000c), the basic dilemma associated with
community notification is balancing the publics right to be informed with the need
to successfully reintegrate offenders within the community (p.376). In order to
effectively evaluate the reintegration process for sex offenders, one has to be aware
of what causes sexual predators to relapse. The research demonstrates that sex
offenders typically commit offenses in response to emotional triggers that create a
31


heightened level of anxiety. The offender, therefore, seeks opportunities to decrease
or eliminate anxiety by committing acts of sexual deviancy. Furthermore, public
notification laws generally create an environment where offenders feel ostracized by
the community, reinforcing, if not worsening, many of the social-situational and
emotional factors known to trigger offense behaviors (Freeman-Longo, 1996).
3.6 The Myths and Misconceptions about Sex Offenders
Our sense of what is or what is not a social problem is a product, something
that has been produced or constructed through social activities (Jenkins, 1998, p.
8). The media has tremendous influence and power over public perception.
Through the use of creative journalism and sensationalized reporting the public is
bombarded with a superficial reality that the media has produced. As consumers,
we buy into the idea that the product being presented is accurate and reflective of
what is really happening in our environment, when in actuality it may be biased
information that is completely deceptive or based on half-truths. The medias
influence combined with others factors such as the cultural climate, political trends,
and social attitudes all contribute to the manner in which reality is constructed.
Typically, public fear is sparked by the medias attention on one or more
sensational events. The more the media focuses on a particular social problem, the
greater the likelihood that public fear will escalate. In the 1970s, Stanley Cohen and
Stuart Hall formulated a theory of moral panic:
32


When the official reaction to a person, groups of persons or series of
events is out of all proportion to the actual threat offered, when
experts perceive the threat in all but identical terms, and appear to
talk with one voice of rates diagnoses, prognoses and solutions, when
the media representations universally stress sudden and dramatic
increases (in numbers involved or events) and novelty, above and
beyond that which a sober, realistic appraisal could sustain
(Jenkins 1998, p. 6).
The medias representation of sex offenders as being a greater risk for re-
offending than any other criminal, or the idea that sex offenders can not be
rehabilitated are two prime examples of information that has shaped the publics
view of sex offenders and their perceived threat to the well being of society. Public
fear remains high about sex offenders when these statements have gone
unchallenged and when the public is not made aware of other information that
contradicts such claims.
According to Jenkins, sex offenders have one of the lowest rates as
repeaters of all types of criminals, and only homicide offenders were less likely to
repeat their crimes (1998, p.70). In the article, Facts About Sex Offenders by
Diane Carmen, the author also argues that recidivism rates for sex crimes are lower
than other types of crimes. Carmen (2000) states:
Untreated sex offenders re-offend at a rate of 18.5 percent after their
release from prison, compared with a recidivism rate of 25 percent
for drug offenders and 30 percent for offenders convicted of other
types of violent crime. Sex offenders who receive treatment have a
recidivism rate of 10.9 percent. And if long-term care is available
with counseling and support groups, the risk is reduced further
(p.A12).
33


Sex offenders who strike fear in the communities across the country are relatively
rare, but are the type of perpetrators the media focuses on and who receive the most
publicity. The publics view of sex offenders is greatly limited and based on
inaccurate and/or biased information.
As a result of the media constructing the publics perspective of sex
offenders, we tend to view sex offenders as one-dimensional creatures. The deviant
behavior of the sex offender becomes the primary focus while other more human
aspects of the offenders personality are ignored or dismissed. Furthermore, the
labels placed upon sex offenders are often misleading to the onlooker. For example,
a sex offender who has been clinically diagnosed as a pedophile may have had only
one sexual encounter with a child, however, the label of pedophile suggests that the
offenders behavior is chronic (Walsh, 1990).
In a study exploring the sentencing of sex offenders, it was found that more
than any other class of offenders [sex offenders] are considered abnormal and in
need of treatment (Walsh, 1990, p. 376). While some psychiatrists characterize the
sex offender as the most emotionally and mentally disturbed of all criminals, to
the general public he is both ill and evil (Walsh, 1990, p. 376). Not only does the
sex offender label affect the sentencing of such offenders, usually resulting in
harsher punishment than other criminals, but it also directly influences the offenders
ability to reintegrate successfully back into the community.
34


According to the article, Crime, Shame, and Reintegration by John
Braithwaite, the author defines stigmatization as .disintegrative shaming in which
no effort is made to reconcile the offender with the community (1989, p.291). In
addition, Braithwaite argues that through the stigmatization process the offenders
deviant behavior becomes a master status, which typically results in the offender
being ostracized from the community and experiencing lowered self-esteem.
Research suggests that feelings of isolation and low self-esteem are common
traits found among sex offenders and are factors that can trigger an offender to
relapse. By stigmatizing or labeling sex offenders we are actually creating an
environment of lowered-self esteem and isolation which in turn could result in an
increased likelihood of repeat offenses.
35


4. Methodology
This research was a qualitative study conducted with male sex offenders
who were undergoing treatment as part of their parole or probationary requirements
in Colorado. The population sample was derived from one treatment provider
agency located in the Denver Metropolitan area. At this treatment provider agency,
group therapy sessions are arranged according to adult male sex offenders, adult
female sex offenders, adolescent sex offenders, and after-care sex offender groups.
The study specifically focused on interviewing participants from the adult male sex
offender group and adult male sex offenders in the after-care program.
Thirty-three interviews were conducted with adult males who were
participating in treatment for convicted sex offenses or sex offenses that were pled
down to non-sexual offenses. The median age range for sex offenders involved in
the study was 36 years old (range = 20-58). Of the 33 participants, 10 were married,
15 were single, 6 were divorced, and 2 were separated. Of the 33 respondents, 23
had children and 10 participants did not have children at the time the study was
conducted. The number of children raised by the respondents ranged from 1 child
to 7 children (median = 2.6). Thirty-two respondents were employed and one
participant was unemployed at the time of the research. Their educational
36


backgrounds varied from some high school to a maximum of two years of college,
with the majority, 19 participants having finished high school.
The sentencing of the sex offenders in this study also varied. Fifteen
participants were incarcerated for their offenses and served a prison sentence from 1
year to 15 years. Specifically, 8 participants were incarcerated from 1 year to 5
years; 6 participants were incarcerated from 6 years to 10 years; and 1 participant
was incarcerated for 15 years.
The process of obtaining volunteers involved meeting with each therapy
group and explaining the purpose of the study, the main themes that would be
discussed during the interviews, and confidentiality issues. After the study was
explained and questions were answered, the researcher asked for volunteers to
participate in an interview. A private area, within the treatment agency, was
selected for the interview, and the volunteer was provided with a consent form (see
Appendix A) that discussed the goals, benefits, and risks involved in participating in
the study. In addition, the consent form requested that volunteers indicate whether
they agreed to have the interview audio-taped for transcription purposes.
Prior to the interview, each participant was assigned a code number to
ensure confidentiality. The participants code number was recorded on the
demographic worksheet (see Appendix B) and the consent form. Participants were
asked to complete a demographic worksheet for the purpose of gathering pertinent
information regarding the sample population.
37


A semi-structured interview format (see Appendix C) was used that allowed
the researcher to pursue other areas of importance in relation to the individual
participants experiences and attitudes. Lengths of the interviews ranged from one
hour to two hours and were tape-recorded with the subjects consent. Most
interviews were conducted with a single person; however, in two instances group
interviews were conducted at the request of the participants. In these cases, the
volunteers felt more comfortable discussing their experiences with other members in
their therapy group present. One group interview involved five participants from
one specific group therapy session, and the other group interview involved two
individuals who were part of a specific after-care therapy session. The interview
tapes were then transcribed for qualitative data analysis. The data were analyzed for
general statements about relationships among categories of observations (Schatzman
and Strauss, 1973), and grouped into conceptual domains (Glaser and Strauss,
1967).
Although strict confidentiality was ensured to respondents of this study, the
individuals responses to the interview questions may have been censored or framed
in a manner that would not threaten their existing status with their probation and
parole officers. Participants may have responded in a manner that portrayed their
personal experiences in the best possible light. Furthermore, the area in which the
interviews were conducted was at the treatment center where they participate in
group therapy. This may have caused some anxiety in the participants regarding the
38


researchers relationship to the treatment providers and whether the information
provided would be relayed back to their therapists. The researcher attempted to
diminish the level anxiety felt about participating in the interview by discussing
confidentiality issues and asking non-threatening questions. In addition, subjects
were informed that they did not have to answer any questions they were
uncomfortable with and that they could stop the interview at any time.
The majority of respondents seemed eager to volunteer for the study because
they felt the topic of the research was vitally important. Moreover, they were
concerned about the direction of laws surrounding sex offenders. This was their
opportunity to offer their opinion and perspective about issues that affect the quality
of their lives and their ability to succeed in the community.
Table 4.0 Table of Offenses
Types of Sexual Offenses Frequency
Felony Sexual Assault 19
Misdemeanor Sexual Assault 5
Incest 2
Rape 0
Indecent Exposure 4
Other 3
39


Table 4.1 shows that 19 participants were convicted of felony sexual
assaults, with the majority being sentenced on felony sexual assaults on a child and
attempted felony sexual assaults on a child. Five participants were convicted of
misdemeanor sexual assaults, which consisted primarily of third degree sexual
assaults. The three participants who were in the other category were sentenced to
non-sexual offenses. The first subject was originally charged with a sexual assault,
but was only convicted of criminal trespassing. The second subject was convicted
of motor vehicle theft and was court ordered into sex offender treatment for an
incident that happened 15 years ago in which he attempted to sexually assault a
female, but was not formally charged with a sexual offense. The third subject was
convicted of possession of a controlled substance and criminal mischief, but was
court ordered sex offender treatment because of a misdemeanor sexual assault he
had in 1989 for which he received a six month deferred sentence.
40


5. Findings
The data showed that the participants in this study expressed concern about
several important issues surrounding the management of sex offenders within the
community. The majority of participants discussed their frustration with the
changing and increasingly stringent laws that are enacted for sex offenders.
Moreover, most believed that sex offenders are singled out and exposed to
probationary restriction and laws, which other criminals, who are potentially more
dangerous, are not subjected to as part of their sentencing conditions. The majority
of sex offenders interviewed also believed that existing laws set them up to fail.
They explained that current legal requirements are confusing, and often produce
increased levels of stress, which could cause some participants to relapse.
The majority of participants were not overly concerned about being required
to register as a sex offender with local law enforcement agencies. Many of the sex
offenders perceived the process of registering as frustrating, but routine. The
discussion of community notification laws among the interviewees, however, was
met with anxiety, anger, and frustration. Many participants expressed concern that
although the only type of sex offender subjected to community notification laws in
Colorado were those that are considered to be sexually violent predators, they felt
that the publics panic over sex offenders and the legislations response to this panic
41


by implementing stricter laws might result in community notification laws
expanding to all sex offenders in the future. Furthermore, the majority of
interviewees believed that community notification laws would only cause undue
stress to sex offenders who are trying to move on with their lives in a community
that views them as the most depraved and evil of all criminal types. Most of the
participants believed that exposing their crimes to the community could result in the
public committing acts of vigilante and harassment towards the offender and the
offenders family. Furthermore, the exposure of their crimes may cause some sex
offenders to further isolate from the community, which may create an environment
whereby additional offenses are more likely.
In relation to the treatment requirements for sex offenders, most participants
expressed distrust of the use of polygraphs as a treatment tool. The distrust felt by
participants was focused primarily on the polygraph examiners style of
administering the exam; the questions asked during the exam, which many felt were
confusing and/or vague; and the perceived level of accuracy of polygraph tests as a
whole.
In contrast, the majority of participants believed that group therapy was an
essential component in understanding themselves as well as their crimes. Most
agreed that group therapy was a positive experience in that it helped them to identify
their triggers, learn to control their impulses and understand the effect their crimes
have on the victims and secondary victims, such as the offenders and victims
42


family and friends. In addition, the majority of sex offenders interviewed believed
that coming to their therapy group was the one environment where they could talk
openly about their feelings and crimes without fear of judgment. Several
participants, however, expressed disagreement with the treatment provider policy,
which allows the treatment provider to terminate individuals from group therapy
who are not able to afford therapy or are having financial difficulties.
The public perception of sex offenders also was an area of concern for many
of the participants. The majority of offenders believed that the public labels sex
offenders as the worst type of criminal. Furthermore, most agreed that the public
lumps all sex offenders together in one category and does not distinguish lesser
sexual offenses, such as indecent exposure compared to more severe crimes such as
rape and child molestation.
A great number of studies have been conducted on the factors involved in
what motivates a person to commit sexual offenses. Many criminologists have
argued that the main reason sex offenders commit their crimes is because they
themselves were abused as children. While some participants in this study agree
that past abuse may be linked to a person repeating this cycle by sexually
victimizing in later years, most argued that a number of other factors were also
involved. In the present study, the majority of interviewees indicated that the
following factors contributed to their crimes: loneliness, isolation, stress, anger,
43


low-self esteem, inability to form adult relationships, and rejection and
abandonment issues.
5.1 Dirty Old Man in a Trench Coat
Among the participants interviewed for this study, the majority expressed
concerns about the effect the sex offender label has had on their lives including
finding employment and the perceptions of their friends, family, and neighbors.
Moreover, they discussed the medias portrayal of sex offenders and the general
misconceptions the public has about the make-up of a sex offender.
The label of sex offender is one of the more damaging labels because of
the images and fear it conjures up for people. There is no escaping the sex offender
label and current laws continually reinforce this image. A few participants in this
study, for example, stated that they believed the process of registering as a sex
offender reinforced a negative self-image and made it difficult for the individual to
see himself as anything but a sex offender. The sex offender may then adopt a self-
image reflective of the publics perception of them as the most disgusting,
perverted, and evil of all the criminal types. In addition, community members, who
discover that a sex offender is living in their neighborhood by requesting this
information from the registration list or by being informed through notification,
might reinforce the sex offender label by the manner in which the community
ostracizes the person convicted of this offense.
44


One interviewee, who was convicted of incest, discussed his thoughts about
how the public views sex offenders:
The general publics concept of a sex offender is as a dirty old man
in a trench coat with a hand full of candy trying to sweep children off
the street (participant #115).
Another interviewee, who was convicted of a third degree sexual assault,
expressed his thoughts regarding the public perception of sex offenders and his
feelings about informing potential girlfriends about his crime:
There is the rejection factor. I dont know. I mean Im not a child
molester. I didnt rape anybody. I dont feel like I am a danger to
society but yet if I tell people I am a sex offender they are going to
categorize me with everybody else. On paper we are just all sex
offenders regardless. I know what I am and what Ive done. I can
accept it but can you? Can society accept it? Its not socially
acceptable. Murder is more socially acceptable than this (participant
#111).
Overall, the participants of this study believed that society lumps all sex
offenders into one category regardless of the severity of the offense. A person who
grabbed the buttocks of a woman and was convicted of a misdemeanor third-degree
sexual assault is viewed the same as an individual who molested his child. Some
participants attributed this to societys misconception that all sex offenders are
either child molesters or rapists.
As one participant, who was convicted of one count of a third degree
attempted sexual assault, stated:
Everybody thinks that a sex offender molested a child and theres
nothing in the newspapers to change that opinion. I didnt molest a
45


child. I didnt rape anyone. I attempted to rape someone but I didnt
go through with it. It doesnt matter though because I am a sex
offender and so everybody views me as a child molester. I think they
should be separated into different groups regarding their crime
(participant #122).
Furthermore, the majority of participants believed that the media, which sells
sensational and emotionally triggering stories is responsible for reinforcing the sex
offender image as a person who is lurking behind every dark alley waiting for the
opportunity to violate the next child that walks by. The general public, often
uneducated about sex offenders and the reality of their crimes, quickly buys into the
images the media is selling to them.
One individual expressed his frustration about the manner in which the
media portrays stories about sex offenders and the effect it had on him:
I understand the publics fear about sex offenders because of the
nature of the crime and how horrendous they perceive it to be, but I
think a lot of it is due to the irresponsible recanting of it in the news.
I think it was six weeks ago when they released seventy-six sex
offenders, but what they didnt tell the public is that these men had
done their time. The headline read, Molesters Set Free. The next
day headline read something to the effect that half of the sex
offenders werent registered. That cant be true because five days
before you leave prison, you have to give them an address and the
County Sheriffs go and check out that address to make sure its
accurate. But see, they dont tell the public that. These people have
paid their debt to society and now all they want to do is get on with
their lives. Not that we expect the community to welcome us back
with open arms, but Jesus Christ, give us a break. If you keep
parading us, Im not saying anyone in particular, but some people
cant function under the limelight like that and they are going to snap
(participant #115).
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5.2 To Disclose or Not to Disclose?
Although finding a job is a difficult task for any person convicted of a
crime, it becomes increasingly challenging when an individuals criminal
background contains two words-sex offender. Finding employment is a major
source of stress for individuals convicted of sexual offenses who have a number of
fees to pay as part of their sentence, including restitution, court costs, polygraph
examinations, and therapy. In addition, many of the participants interviewed have
families to financially support.
The constant rejection faced when searching for employment is discouraging
and may lead many to question whether they should admit their offense during the
application process to avoid being discarded before having the opportunity to prove
themselves in an interview. Others have chosen to not inform their current
employer of their conviction, but live in constant fear that their crime will be
discovered and they will lose their job as a result.
One interviewee discussed his problems regarding finding a job after being
convicted of a sexual assault on a child:
I went for a job interview and on the application it said, we do not
hire felons. I gave the application back. I wasnt even going to go
any further with it. Its very hard. It seems like the only jobs we can
get are the dead-end ones to be an effective person. I used to be a
correctional officer and now I lost that opportunity and its not like
poor me, but its like youre not going to get a fair chance from this
point on (participant #103).
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Another participant expressed the challenges he faced during the process of
finding a job:
The majority of people who found out about my crime treated me like
shit. When I first got out I sent out forty to fifty job applications. The
application asked if I ever had a felony. I would say, Yes, Ill explain in
interview. During the interview, I would tell them that I am a sex
offender. They would just say, oh, well keep your application or well
call you if we have an opening. Of course, I never got a call. I had a lot
of rejection. Now, I will never tell anyone that I am a sex offender
because when you say sex offender, everybody has one opinion or another.
Usually they dont want to be around you (participant #115).
For several of the participants interviewed, their jobs were the one thing in
their lives that provided meaning and a sense of self worth as well as kept them
from becoming more isolated from society. One interviewee commented about his
fear of losing his job:
If I didnt have this job, if I lost this job, I honestly believe I would
have been suicidal. My job was the only thing keeping me going.
I was going to do whatever it took to keep this job. And thats
the only thing, the three weeks in jail that I thought about. I have
to do whatever it takes to keep this job (participant #122).
One participant discussed a traumatic experience that occurred when his
employer discovered that he was charged with a sexual assault on a child:
When I was doing security we were still going through the court
procedures. At the time, I was working in a security field. Thats
the job I am having so much difficulty letting go of. I had just gotten
promoted to Lieutenant. Court orders would come down from time
to time saying, You cant be around children. There were certain
hospitals that I couldnt go to because at night we had to do courier
runs from hospital to hospital. It was becoming obvious that there
was definitely a problem. They all knew I was involved in legal
issues, but they didnt know what it was. It became obvious when I
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had to tell them that I couldnt do courier runs to certain hospitals,
but I cant tell you why. A week before sentencing, one of my
officers made a trip to Adams County courthouse, got a copy of my
file, brought it back to the office, made copies of it, and distributed it
around the office. He sent a copy of it to the Department of Licensing
in Denver and they took my guard license away. He passed it around
to everybody. My supervisor told me that they would do a full
investigation and that I could press charges against the person who
did it. I think it was for extortion. I lost my job, and it meant
everything to me (participant #99).
Some participants, typically ones who were employed at their job when they
were convicted, stated that their employers were supportive of them even after they
informed them of their charges. Overall, the majority of participants believed that
they would either lose their job, or be rejected during the application process. After
facing a great deal of rejection, several participants were able to obtain jobs through
family members or friends. No matter what the situation is, however, the decision
to be upfront with employers about a crime that elicits responses of disgust and fear
is a difficult choice that individuals convicted of sex offenses must deal with in
order to get around the limitations placed upon them.
5.3 Family Business
One important step in sex offender treatment involves the perpetrators
disclosure of offenses to family members. The purpose of family disclosure from a
treatment perspective is to create a supportive environment for the offender and to
discourage isolation, which is a common factor found in most sex offenders. Most
of the participants found it difficult and embarrassing to disclose the circumstances
49


of their crimes to their family, but also felt a sense of relief to have it out in the
open. Moreover, they also felt fortunate to have their family and friends support
and love them despite the tragic nature of their offense. While informing some
family members is typically a treatment requirement, many sex offenders are still
reluctant to tell their closest friends and family members for fear of losing these
relationships, or being judged.
One participant, who was charged with indecent exposure, expressed his
feelings about his decision to not inform his family about his offense:
When it all came out, I was totally embarrassed about the whole
thing. I told absolutely no one. I take care of my father who is
eighty-five. I know that nothing good could come out of telling him.
The stuff that has happened, I gotta take care of, which means I have
no place else to go anyway. In general, it would do no good. We are
not that close where we talk about problems. There are only two,
three, four people and my wife that I am close to. My whole life I
was always the one who listened to everybodys problems. No one
ever listened to mine. I just dont share it. This group is the only
exception in my life (participant #117).
One participant, who was convicted of a sexual assault on a child,
related his experience in telling his family about his offense, as well as
the disclosure of previous sexual abuse he experienced as a child:
My family couldnt believe I could do anything of the sort. They
never knew because I kept it from them all these years. My uncle on
my moms side molested me when I was young. They never knew
about it until I was charged. They had to hear about what I did and
what happened to me all at once. My father was devastated. He said,
Why didnt you ever tell me? I just never cared to talk about it. It
was really uneasy for me and I didnt enjoy what happened to me. I
know that nobody else is going to enjoy it either. I later found out
50


that this uncle had also molested other people in the family. As far
as my friends go, most of them wouldnt even allow me time to talk
to them. As soon as they found out what the charges against me
were, they quit talking to me period. They wouldnt even
acknowledge that I was around (participant #99).
Another interviewee, who was charged with an attempted sexual
assault, described the experience of telling his parents about his offense:
My parents were coming out to see me and I tried to tell them not to.
I, ya know, was working a lot of overtime, blah, blah, blah. And they
said: Were coming out. Thats the only day we can. Were
coming out. So I told them: This is whats going on. This is why I
didnt want you to come out. I explained to them that I was living at
a half-way house. I didnt want them to see me in that environment.
They asked me what I was in there for, and I told them, I dont want
to tell you on the phone. I will tell you in person. And yesterday
they got here about 11 oclock. We talked for awhile, and in a sense
I was required to tell them if we were going to be able to go
anywhere, do anything. I had to have them sign a paper that they
knew about my offense. They knew I couldnt have contact with
minors, and that they had to supervise me. I told them about it
yesterday, explained everything to them. And you know, theyre my
parents. They love me, and that how they explained it to me. They
dont think any less of me. In the past, I would say that it was a
mistake. It wasnt a mistake. It was a bad decision. To say it was a
mistake is to minimize it. It was a bad decision and I told them that.
I made a bad decision, and I am dealing with the decision that I made
that night (participant #122).
Having a degree of control regarding the decision to tell family and
friends as well as having the freedom to decide when to inform them of their
crime was important to most participants interviewed for this study. Several
interviewees, however, experienced an unexpected disclosure of their crime
to other family and community members.
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One person, who was convicted of a sexual assault on a child,
discussed the circumstances involved when his family and neighbors were
told about his offense:
There are very little people that I actually share this with, but
needless to say I didnt really have to explain it to people because my
ex-wife more or less put it out there like with my neighbors and
friends. After doing my time, my six years, I came back to see old
friends, and they didnt really want to go into detail. Nevertheless, I
tried to explain my situation. But they knew me for who I was.
They didnt look at me like a rapist or a child molester. It just wasnt
me. It didnt fit my profile. They just thought something had to go
on or something had to be wrong because youre not that kind of
person. I had to prove myself again-all over again. It got very
uncomfortable sometimes (participant #110).
In contrast to the above scenario, the following interviewee, who was
convicted of a sexual assault on a child, decided to tell his neighbors about
his offense:
I came up and I just told them. I said: Theres something I just need
to talk to you about, and I told them why. And I said, my attorney
had asked that I do this to get a letter of recommendation from you.
And I just told them that in 1988,1 was arrested for sexually
assaulting my daughter. And most of them, you know, were
shocked, and couldnt believe that I had done something like that
because of my standing in the neighborhood and stuff. And not
making advances to any of the teenaged girls. At the time, there
were about five or six families in the neighborhood who had teenage
girls. I never made any advances to them or anyone else. I said they
were shocked, but they said, We know what youre like, that youre
a good person. Youve made a mistake. You know, the neighbors
were shocked and standoffish at first, but then they started realizing,
hes not a bad person. He fits into society and hes not going to hurt
anybody anymore. Now, we have normal conversations and they
treat us real good, and they treat me real good (participant #129).
52


This same participant when asked whether he felt his neighbors were
more supportive because he told them rather than if they had found it out on
their own, stated:
I was honest with them. When it came down to the point where I
needed to let somebody know, I was afraid to do it, but I still went
ahead and did it. Because I needed to do it, and I needed to be honest
with these people. They respected that, you know (participant #129).
5.4 Out of the Loop: Dealing with the Changing Laws
Overall, participants of the present study believed that they were at the
whim of legislation involving sex offenders. The ever-changing laws and
probationary requirements surrounding sex offenses has caused confusion not only
for offenders, but probation officers, judicial officials, and law enforcement officers
alike. In Colorado, for example, sex offenders were originally required to register
once a year. As of July 2001, sex offenders are now required to register quarterly.
For several participants, this change was neither explained to them, nor did they
receive information about their status from probations officers or law enforcement
agencies where they are required to register. In addition, it was not made clear if all
sex offenders were required to register quarterly. Did this include individuals who
were convicted of a felony sexual offense as well as those convicted of
misdemeanor sexual offenses? Did this new requirement affect individuals who
committed their crime prior to the changing of sex offender registration from once a
year to quarterly? As one participant stated:
53


I registered once a year and then this quarterly thing came out so I
spoke with my probation officer about it and she told me that she
thought I would have to register quarterly and that I should get
something in the mail about it if I have to. I went down to the Denver
police to register and they told me that I didnt have to register
quarterly because my offense was only an attempted sexual assault.
Im not really sure how they decide who has to register quarterly
(Participant #121).
Another participant expressed his initial confusion about the new registration
laws:
The City of Aurora sent me a letter stating that I had to register
quarterly. Well my P.O. said, No because she had just finished
training on these issues. She said: According to the letter of the law
this does not pertain to you. This does not pertain to you because the
sentencing on the felony is deferred. But the City of Aurora states
that my deferred sentence is really a temporary conviction. Thats
the way they put it. Its temporary until it drops off and as long as
its there they say I have to register quarterly.
Another area of confusion for sex offenders is in relation to the probationary
terms they are required to follow. One participant, who was convicted of an
attempted sexual assault against an adult female, commented on his frustration with
a change that was made to his probationary requirements:
This is the thing. When I first went to court, my wife was pregnant.
The judge checked off everything except for the things that had to do
with kids because he knew my wife was pregnant. I think the judge
was in a good mood that day. My probation officer told me: Well
he didnt check these things off, so its probably not a problem with
your daughter. When my daughter was bom, I was able to do
everything with her. I was allowed to change her diapers and
everything. There was no problem. Then my probation officer went
to a conference, some kind of sex offender conference. They said
that all sex offenders have to be under the same things. So even
though the judge didnt check those things off, they said I couldnt
54


do those things with my daughter. That was kind of a hassle because
my wife was used to me helping then all of a sudden everyone has to
supervise me and stuff (participant #105).
Most of the participants interviewed expressed increased levels of
concern and anxiety about the direction of sex offender laws and how these
changes would affect their lives. One area that appeared to cause the most
anxiety for sex offenders was the idea that they could be subjected to
community notification laws. One participant discussed his fear of
community notification laws after hearing that Colorado reserves
notification for sexually violent predators:
Thats the way it is now. In five years, it could be everybody. How
do I really know what the law will be then. I dont. If that happens, I
might as well live in the country by myself somewhere and get away
from all populations (participant # 122).
Overall, most participants believed that the probation conditions they are
required to follow are overwhelming and often difficult to achieve. One
interviewee, who was convicted of indecent exposure, discussed concerns about his
experiences with his probation officer:
They tend to put every obstacle they can find in your path to make it
difficult for you to live or start to live in society. I dont know how it
all adds up. All these things are just left up to the individual whims
of the probation or parole officer who has control over you. There is
no standard. Its just how their personality blends with yours to what
actually transpires. In my particular case, I was never told I had to be
involved in any of this stuff until I went to probation. I had a court
sentence that said that I will be under the control of my probation
officer and I will do what they tell me. Thats all the court said. So
then I get there [to probation] and he starts spewing out all these
55


things and Im in shock. Then they start giving me all these
limitations like I cant be around children. My offense didnt have
anything to do with children (participant #117).
One participant discussed his concerns regarding the number of restrictions
placed on sex offenders as part of their probationary conditions:
Most of us not only have this class, we have other classes to go to
and pay for. Plus, you have to support yourself, and you cant go
back to your family if there are any kids in the house. The
restrictions they put on us, they doom us to fail from the very
beginning (participant #115).
One interviewee, who was charged with one count of sexual assault on
a child, expressed his frustrations about the probationary requirements for sex
offenders:
They are hard to keep up with. These guys [the Sex Offender
Management Board] go in every year and in order to justify their
existence they are going to keep coming up with more stuff. I think
they really get out of control. Eventually, they will find some way,
some loophole, to give us lifetime supervision because they make it
too hard that you cant comply with probation.
Another respondent expressed similar views:
Some of us strive to change our lives and make the world a better
place by doing so. Others dont care. Regardless, we are lumped
together by a label and often described as dangerous and beyond
help. Under this label, we search, often alone, for ways to cope with
the ever-increasing guidelines for probation and parole. Dont feel
sorry for me. I will overcome. But when it gets to the point when
you ask yourself, how do these guys go on?, then realize that your
sex offender treatment board may have gone too far.
A recent change regarding sentencing of sex offenders concerns individuals,
who are originally charged with a sexual offense, but have plead to a non-sexual
56


offense, are required to undergo sex offender treatment including group therapy and
polygraph testing. The judicial system is essentially punishing someone for a crime
for which they were not convicted. This is just one example of an over zealous
response to sex offenders within the judicial system, probation department, and law
enforcement. The discussion among legislators and judicial officials of how to
manage sex offenders in the community and the extent of punishment these types of
offenders should be subjected to is a politically charged and emotional issue
whereby nobody wants to take stance that could be perceived by the public as weak
or tolerant.
In response to public pressure surrounding sex offenders, legislators offer
knee-jerk reaction laws that do little to provide safety from further victimization.
Elected judges, who do not want to jeopardize their position, give harsher sentences
to sex offenders. District attorneys are reluctant to dismiss sexual assault cases that
lack sufficient evidence and consequently individuals who have not been convicted
of a sex offense are forced by the courts to participate in sex offender treatment.
One participant, who was convicted of criminal trespassing, tells his story:
Interviewee:
I was originally charged with a second-degree sexual assault. They
didnt have enough evidence for a second-degree sexual assault so
they bargained it down to a charge of criminal trespassing
Interviewer:
What were the circumstances of your offense?
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Interviewee:
Okay, the way it happened was.. .when I came home from work, I
went to a bar. Instead of going home, I went to my neighbors house
and went up-stairs. She said I fondled her vagina. I said I didnt.
They didnt have enough evidence to prove that, but because I went
into her house unannounced and everything, they got me with
criminal trespassing.
Interviewer:
Do you have to register then?
Interviewee:
No.
Interviewer:
But you have to participate in therapy and the polygraphs even
though you werent convicted of a sexual offense?
Interviewee
Right. I dont really understand it other than they thought I was a
threat in some way.
5.5 A Lifetime Ordeal Sex Offender Registration
From the law enforcement perspective the primary goal of registration is to
have the ability to track sex offenders and use this information to solve future sex
crimes. The secondary goal is to provide community members with the option of
investigating, through the registry list, whether there are any sex offenders living in
their neighborhood. Overall, participants understood the reasoning involved in
using
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the sex offender registry list to increase efficiency of law enforcement. Participants,
however, were concerned about the consequences of the public having access to
their personal information, and how this would effect them in their efforts to live a
normal life.
One participant, who was convicted of a third degree sexual assault,
discussed his thoughts on sex offender registration:
I can totally understand them wanting to put our names out there, but
they should have levels when you have to register. I personally think
with certain charges you shouldnt have to register as a sex offender.
Mine was just a misdemeanor. Its pretty degrading, but you have to
do it. I think registration is a good thing, but not for every person. It
should depend on the severity of the crime (participant #111).
Another participant, who was convicted of one count of incest,
discussed his experience with the registration process:
I think if it was used correctly it would be all right, but now they
want me to register four times a year.. Its just ludicrous. I went
down to Jefferson County to register. I had changed addresses so I
went down to tell them. They didnt have me on file. They couldnt
find my paperwork. I was convicted in Jefferson County, I was
sentence in Jefferson County, I paroled to Jefferson County, and my
registration was in Jefferson County. I think it makes the public feel
better that we register, but registering three to four times a year, just
isnt good. A sex offender who doesnt respond to treatment, does
his time and is out. If he wants to re-offend, whether he registers or
not, its not going to keep him from re-offending (participant #119).
Although the majority of participants understood the need for
registration, they also believed that the process of registering itself made it
difficult for them to move pass the sex offender label. One interviewee
59


expressed his frustration with registering and the effect it has on his self
image:
First of all most sex offenders are not going to contaminate their own
neighborhood. Sex offenders who are active, I would say go outside
their neighborhood. Okay, so whats the purpose? How has it
affected my life? Its just another reminder that I am a sex
offender. I got to the point where I didnt walk down the street
thinking of myself as a sex offender. Registering three to four times
a year, like we have to now, just gets me back into the mindset where
I feel like a sex offender. Reminding someone that they made a
mistake isnt a good thing. Its not good behavior modification. Its a
constant reminder. The new registration is a constant, in your face,
reminder. If you treat someone like a burglar, or if you treat
someone like a sex offender, their behavior is going to be modified
towards the way they are treated. If you keep telling me, Youre a
sex offender, youre a sex offender, youre a sex offender, my
behavior is not going to change. Youre a sex offender and you are
one for life. The stigma is there for life (participant #114).
Another interviewee expressed similar concerns about the possible
effects of sex offender registration:
One of the hardest things of registration and laws like community
notification, is that you listen to everyone and just about every person
in these groups have talked about feeling isolated at some point in
time and talking about feeling different. Therapys goal is to move
you over here, and then you have to notify people and register, and it
just takes you back over here where your reminded of being a sex
offender, that your different and you begin to feel isolated again
(participant #124).
Overall, most participants agreed that requirements such as
registration, cause them to feel singled out from all criminal types,
because they must comply with conditions that other offenders are not
responsible to follow. Among the participants interviewed, there was
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frustration and anger that their crimes are viewed as more dangerous and
socially unacceptable than a murderer:
Every time I have to register I do. When I changed my address from
Lakewood to Thornton, I went down there to register. If they [the
public] feel safer, so be it. Its not that big of an inconvenience to me
to go. What bothers me, like I said earlier, a murderer murders
somebody, and they are sentenced, but for whatever reason hes not
sentenced for life. He gets off, but he doesnt have to register. He is
not on lifetime parole, probation, or registration, you know. Were
on lifetime registration. I mean how can you compare the two and
say that ours is worse than someone who takes a life (participant
#122).
Another interviewee, who was convicted with incest, expressed
similar concerns:
With regards to registration, I accept that we should go to the police
and give them our names and addresses. But with regard to the effect
on the general population, I think, registering should not be made a
public issue any more than murderers and bank robbers. Any felon
of any kind should also be registered and listed the same way we are.
We should not be singled out. We made mistakes, but it should not
be just us. It becomes a lifetime ordeal. The guy, who is quite
comfortable sticking a gun in someones face to rob them to me is as
dangerous as a person who exposes themselves in public. The tables
are very lopsided I think (participant #117).
5.6 In the Limelight Community Notification Laws
Although none of the participants interviewed for this study were
subjected to community notification, they expressed various opinions about
this recent trend in sex offender laws. Many participants mentioned that if
they had children they would want to know if anyone lived in their
community who had the potential to harm them. While they understood that
61


protecting ones children is a normal behavior, they also believed that
community notification laws would not realistically offer the community
immunity from being victimized. In addition, the majority of participants
were scared that community notification would become the norm in
managing paroled sex offenders rather than the rarity.
The majority of participants interviewed stated that they have heard
numerous stories of sex offenders being harassed and assaulted after the
community was notified of their crimes. The primary concern of most
interviewees in this study, therefore, was that the process of notifying the
community of sex offenders could cause people to become paranoid and
create a hostile environment where residents harassed the offender and the
offenders family.
In addition, they were concerned that a negative response from the
community would make it difficult for them to move on from the mistakes
they made in the past, and attempt to live a normal way of life. One
participant offers his perspective regarding community notification laws:
It really made me angry for a while because I thought they were
going to do it to everybody. But my business is just that, my
business. Im not out searching for someone to harm. Imhere
every week trying to make myself better. I dont need any
harassment from the public, which I have heard has happened in the
past. Ive heard of people getting beat up and getting attacked. Their
houses trashed or their cars trashed just because they made a mistake.
A very serious mistake, but nonetheless. But you have to leam to
work around the publics attitude and fear (participant #99).
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Another interviewee agreed that his primary concern about
community notification was the potential of public retaliation against the sex
offender:
The notification, I have a problem with that. When I was in prison
and I was able to watch television in there. I would be watching the
news and they were doing the notification in El Paso, Texas. That
caused more problems than anything. They posted a sign and there
was destruction of property to his home and you know, whatever it
would take to drive him out. The entire neighborhood would be all
over him. That pretty much would push somebody over the edge
(participant #125).
The fear of people finding out about their crimes through community
notification or the Internet and seeking revenge against them was also
discussed among participants:
If they all put us on the Internet and whatever sex offense we did,
thats really going to affect me. There are people at work that I dont
get along with and they dont like me. Im afraid that those people
are going to get on the computer, get onto the Internet and print a
printout of my name, my address, everything and print it all over
work. Whats going to keep them from doing that, you know. This
person doesnt like me, hes my enemy and he knows my address.
Whats to say hes not going to come to where I live and tell my
neighbors, pass out flyers to all my neighbors, put them on their
door, you know. Then I got people throwing rocks at my window,
burning my house down. Who knows? I committed a crime. Im a
sex offender. But why take away my constitutional rights for living a
normal life and being happy. I paid for my crime. I did my time. I
went to therapy. I did everything that they asked me to. There are
some many positives that have come out of it. I just cant see it. If
they put us on the Internet, its going to take away my normal way of
life, my freedom for the rest of my life (participant #122).
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As stated earlier, community notification, in Colorado, is reserved for
sexually violent predators, who typically are repeat offenders. Many of
the participants expressed anxiety about the future of community notification
laws and whether these laws would eventually encompass a larger group of
sex offenders than just those they have defined as sexually violent. One
participant discussed his concerns about how one is assessed to be a
sexually violent predator and the level of caution that should be exercised
in classifying a person under this particular category of sex offenders:
When they say, sexually violent predator they need to have some
concrete evidence that that person is sexually violent. That he will go
out and recommit the offense. Just because a person has had one
offense, that doesnt necessarily mean that that person is going to go
out and recommit another offense. What they are doing is theyre
saying that all sex offenders are sexually violent and thats not true.
Thats the message they are sending out to the public. There are
some out there that are bad and they need to be kept in prison and
kept away from society (participant #129).
Communities want to protect children from further victimization
by being notified of sex offenders living in their neighborhood conflicts with
the offenders need to view himself as something other than a sex
offender. Many sex offenders have expressed in this study that a sense of
isolation and feeling different were major factors in committing their
crimes. Consequently, community notification may cause sex offenders to
experience high levels of isolation from the community, which may result in
an increased rate of re-offending.
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5.7 The Incurable Disease?
While the public views sex offenders as an incurable population, the
participants of this study saw positive changes in their behavior as they
progressed in their treatment. Overall, participants believed that therapy was
instrumental in their ability to acknowledge their crime and the damage they
inflicted on their victims, understand the triggers or stressors that may cause
them to re-offend, establish healthier adult relationships and discuss their
feelings openly with people that can relate to one another. Although many
participants discussed the initial denial they experienced at the onset of
treatment, they agreed that a supportive environment in which they would
not be judged was significant in their ability to take responsibility for their
actions. One interviewee summarized his experiences with participating in
sex offender treatment:
Group therapy has helped me in so many ways, in recognizing and
realizing things about myself, my emotions, my feelings and being
able to talk about them more easily. I used to be a real closed off
person. I used to be in a group setting at work, if we had a meeting
or something, and I was always afraid to ask a question. I was always
worried about my perception to other people. Now I am the first one
to ask questions. And if I have ten questions, I am going to ask every
one of those questions. Im not afraid to speak out in group. It made
me more open and Im less worried about what people think about
me. What I realized is that I lacked self-esteem, self-confidence. I
didnt accept myself so how could anybody accept me. It was tough
to talk about my offense, but the more I listened to people and
realized that theyre all in here for similar situations that Im in here
for. Theyre all sex offenders. I can talk about this, you know, with
these people. It was a little tough at first. I didnt know how to talk
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about these things or what my therapist expected from me. And I
was really afraid of maybe saying the wrong thing and it getting back
and I get in trouble, worse than I already was. Thats the big thing,
you know. How much do I say, what do I say. I dont think anybody
trusts the system (participant #122).
Another participant echoed similar views:
I was in group in prison for a long time. Its like a 360 degree
opposite of what it is here. With these guys, I feel comfortable. I can
talk to them and express my view and maybe they will say something
that changes my mind and Ill think, Whoa, thats something I
hadnt thought about before. In prison, if you express your own
view, youre going to get kicked out of the group and into the hall
because you either have to go along with what they say or youre in
denial. I realize I did a bad thing. The positive part for me is that I
can come in here and say, I had a bad fucking day. I wanted to
punch somebody out, but I didnt. I had a new thought. I processed
it though. You dont have to worry about the therapist thinking he
has to call the P.O. or cops just because youre venting. If youre
really serious about this, you come to terms with what you did and
your responsibility for it. And then you have to say to yourself,
How do I make me not be a danger to society? Just for me. Not for
society to accept this. I need to trust that I wont go out there and
hurt nobody (participant #115).
The initial step for a sex offender participating in therapy is to move
beyond their feelings of denial and take responsibility for sexually
victimizing another person. For most, the process of breaking through the
denial stage was the biggest obstacle they had to face in treatment. One
participant discussed the denial he experienced during the onset of therapy
and how he feels now that he surpassed that stage in his treatment:
When I made my first therapy appointment, it was like, in my mind I
was still not thinking properly. I was still thinking it was consensual.
I thought she consented. I had letter, documents and stuff from her
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saying that so I kept telling myself that it was consensual. After
going through more classes, I realized I was in a position, I was her
jailer. It probably took me four months to realize that. The more I
got into the workbook, the more we talked about it, the more I was
beginning to see that when you are in a position of authority over
somebody else and your doing something with them, sex, its not
consensual (participant #125)
Another participant talked about the stage of denial that most sex
offenders experience during the beginning of treatment:
Every person that Ive dealt with in a group have come in at the
beginning and just been so locked into denial about what they have
done, the severity of it, and it takes awhile to break that person out of
that point and into okay, I can accept what I did. Heres where I am
now and now move forward. It took me almost a year before I had
accepted what I had done. You know, I accepted right away that I
had done something wrong, but to accept the severity of it?
Accepting how many people it had hurt. What I did to my victim
(participant #124).
Once the sex offender has moved passed the denial stage and taken
responsibility for his offense, treatment then focuses on changing
cognitive distortions that allow sex offenders to rationalize their crimes.
Many of these distortions are developed from early childhood either due to
abuse they experienced or from beliefs that were embedded into their minds
from their parents or caretakers. A sex offender may successfully terminate
from therapy when they understand their distortions and have replaced
unhealthy attitudes with more positive and productive beliefs. As a result of
adopting healthier beliefs that are not conducive to sexually offending, the
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offender is not just thinking healthier they are also behaving in healthier
ways. As one participant stated:
I learned to control that compulsion to ant to touch a woman. Its
given me a different perspective because I used to look at woman
like a piece of meat and sex objects, but that isnt what you guys are.
I have respect now. I really appreciate that they pounded that into
my head because I was raised like that-to not respect woman. Thats
not a man, thats a boy-a boys way of thinking (participant #111).
Another interviewee discussed his opinion about the way he was
raised and how his beliefs have changed since treatment:
From day one, I was very afraid of what was going to happen. But as
soon as I buckled down and decided that I was doing this for me, its
been very positive. Ive learned so much. There are certain things
that were dished out to me in my environment, growing up. These
were the tools I had. I didnt know how to use support. I never used
support. I was a tough guy and Im going to take care of everything
myself. Thats pretty much how I was raised. You got to be strong
and this is how you deal with that. So thats one real positive aspect
of treatment because you're in an environment where you get to use
that support, but its more than that for me because its my friends,
my family. I didnt know that support was available, but now I do
(participant #126).
One participant discussed the abuse he experienced as a child and
how treatment had helped him to deal with these issues:
Treatment has affected me very positively. I know what I did was
wrong. I dont make excuses for it. My problem stretches way back
into my childhood. There was severe abuse in my family. I just look
at things a lot differently than I used to-that everybody has their
boundaries and personal space. You dont need to be crossing their
boundaries. Period. Im able to communicate with people much
better. I am getting back in touch with my sisters. One I havent see
for twenty years (participant #110).
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While most participants in this study believed therapy helped them to
take responsibility for their offense, open up and share their feelings, and
replace their distortions with healthier beliefs, several interviewees also
thought sex offender treatment needed to be improved in a number of ways:
The good thing that has come out of it is you get to sit down and take
a good look at yourself and look at what led you to commit these
actions. It helps you to understand yourself so you can make different
choices. The negative things, I believe is that sometimes I believe it
is all about the money. They want you to be in therapy and they tell
you this is going to help you, but if you dont pay, you cant stay. I
thought the number one thing was to get this person to a point where
they feel safe to have them back into the community. The number
one goal should be to help regardless if that person is having
financial difficulty (participant #116)
Another subject discussed the burden that treatment has had on him
financially:
Its very much a burden. Personally I believe, along with everyone
else in my group, that its a money thing. Its a money thing for the
treatment people here to show society that we are doing something
here, when its really not effective because of the simple fact that its
up to the individual. If you are going to change your ways and your
behaviors and your feelings about society and criminal activity and
so forth and so on, its up to the individual. Treatment really has
nothing to do with it. But treatment financially is definitely a burden
and I try to keep up with it just for the sake of part of my conditions
and getting off paper and getting on with my life (participant #103).
Although most respondents were satisfied with the manner that sex
offender therapy is administered, a few interviewees were concerned with
the approach of some therapists. As one subject stated:
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Bottom line is treatment such as this staff, dont want to hear the
truth. They dont want to hear how you really feel, how I really feel
or what I have to say. So rather than express my true feelings-its not
a game Im playing. Its just what I have to do and so I just go along
with the program. Im not going to blame what I did on anything in
my childhood. I had a real good childhood. I think therapy and the
scenario that other sex offenders have set the stage for, having a bad
childhood. That may be true for some people or a lot of people, but it
wasnt true in my case. Therapy has a tendency to bring this up in
people and make them think that. This is the stage that is set for sex
offenders-somewhere in your past, you dont see it yet, but you will
in treatment, it will surface as you continue with treatment. I believe
they set the tone (participant #116).
The primary concern expressed among participants was the recent
changes made to the structure of therapy and the length they would be
required to be in treatment. According to a few interviewees, the persons
probation officer and therapist determined the length and frequency of an
individuals treatment after assessing the offenders status. Recently, the
laws have changed that require sex offenders to remain in therapy for the
duration of their probation whether it be one year or ten years. In some
cases, individuals who progressed to the after-care program of their
treatment whereby they are only required to meet for group therapy once a
month, are now being informed that they have to meet more often. An after-
care participant stated:
In the beginning of therapy, there was a process, what I am going to
call, Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, and graduation. Okay, those
arent exactly the steps, but you get the idea that its progressive.
Your probation officer and therapist both agree when you can get out
of therapy. Its an accomplishment. That doesnt happen anymore.
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Now, we have to sign a paper that states whatever your probation
sentence was is the time you can expect to be in therapy. There was
a glimmer of hope. If you worked hard, did your workbook, and did
everything, passed your polygraphs, that you could be terminated. It
used to be that you would start going to therapy once a week, then it
would go to once every other month. Okay. It was called
progression. Now its not like that. It went down hill because of
the laws in place. I went from a progression of once a month back
down to every other week.
Another after-care participant echoed similar views about the
changes in the structure of his therapy sessions:
On a positive level, it helped me to understand victim empathy. It
helped me to understand what I did wrong in life and my triggers. I
am more aware of the feelings of the victim and how I have hurt
other people as well. Nothing in treatment was a waste of time for
me. The only thing is some changes they made, such as I went to
therapy once a month for a year and now Im back down to two times
a month. I feel like I did something wrong in therapy, you know. It
feels like I am starting from the beginning again when I have already
been through that part of therapy (participant #113).
One respondent also disagreed with the changes concerning the
length of his treatment:
The only thing I can say is that the new contract they have says that
we are going to have to be in therapy until our probation is over. For
me, thats ten years. At first my probation officer said I could expect
to be here for only two to three years. For me to be here ten years, I
dont think that would be so helpful. Its repetitive. I mean you
cant really leam anymore (participant #105).
Overall, the majority of subjects interviewed for this study, believed
that therapy made a difference in the their lives and the way they viewed
themselves. From their perspective they attributed treatment to higher self-
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esteem, their ability to form positive relationships with other adults, lowered
feelings of isolation, the ability to handle stress, and, most importantly,
understanding themselves and the reasons they committed their offense.
Although they were initially forced to go to therapy by the courts
and the majority of sex offenders in this study were reluctant to participate
during the onset of treatment; eventually, they started to see changes in the
way they viewed their crimes, their victims, and their own self worth.
Despite the negative perspective the public has that sex offenders are an
incurable population, many have chosen to ignore societys attitudes about
them and continue to forge ahead in their own personal progress.
5.8 Perspectives on the Polygraph Examinations
The findings concerning the perception of polygraph examinations as
a treatment requirement demonstrated that the respondents were in
agreement that polygraphs are unreliable for a number of reasons. First, they
believed that the outcome of polygraph examinations depended on a variety
of variables including the personality of the polygrapher, the framing of
questions, the level of understanding the offender has of the questions, and
the mental, physical, and emotional state of the offender. Most participants
believed that probation officers and therapists rely too heavily on the results
of their polygraph, therefore, levels of anxiety and stress increased
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tremendously prior to and during the actual exam. One subject voiced his
anxiety about having to take polygraph examinations:
I dont think that there should be so much strong emphasis put on
the polygraph. I failed some questions on there, that I know I didnt
lie about. That 1 knew I was being honest about. They looked at me
like I was some kind of liar. For a lack of better words, they were
rude to me. There was a question that they asked me to pick a
number, between 1 through 10. I dont remember exactly how it
went. Well anyway, I picked a number and I didnt understand
exactly what the guy was asking me to do. So the next time that he
asked me a question like that, I answered it wrong because I didnt
understand what he was asking. And he got angry at me. Im like I
dont understand what youre asking me. He put it down that I
wasnt cooperating with him. Like I was trying to give him
problems. I was nervous. I was scared. I didnt understand what he
was asking me (participant #122).
Another participant expressed similar concerns:
The first two times I went to this one polygraph testing place. The
first time you go there, that was my sexual history one, where they sit
you down and you talk about everything that has ever happened.
They write it all down. Then the guy leaves the room. Its really
uncomfortable. Youre like in this room, in a chair with a camera on
you. Its cold and they leave you for like twenty minutes. Then they
come back in and go over the questions. They are basically going
over the questions they can ask you. Then they leave the room again.
Then they come back thirteen minutes later and do the test and they
hook you up. The first two times I went in there, I didnt lie, but I
still failed (participant #105).
When this respondent was asked about the type of questions he was
asked during a polygraph examination, he explained the following:
Well the last time I took it, it was a lot about lying. I was surprised.
It was just a maintenance one. He asked me, Do you think Im
going
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to ask you questions we havent reviewed or are you afraid Im going
to ask you questions that we havent already gone over? This guy is
different. Ill get to that in a minute. He explained that those two
questions will let him know if somebody came in there with
something on their mind. Like if a person wanted to rob a 7-11 last
week and hes kind of paranoid that hell be asked a question about it
and its in the back of his mind the whole time. That would come up
in those two questions. I didnt like the first place I went to because I
felt every time I went in there, I wasnt lying. So I went to this guy
and hes a lot more comfortable. He explains everything to you in
detail. How it works and how it measures you. Hell make sure you
completely understand the question. If theres any doubt, hell go
over it until it makes sense. No matter what though, when I go to a
polygraph, I always expect to fail because of the first two
experiences. I tell the truth, but I still expect to fail. I never know
whats going to happen (participant #105).
Many participants believed that their confusion about specific
questions on the examination and the examiners refusal to clarify the
questions to them were factors involved in failing a polygraph. One
respondent, however, believed that the polygraph was ineffective
because he was asked the same type of questions during all his
examinations:
Mine always breaks down to an offense-specific treatment polygraph
to where I have a history of exposing myself and contact with a
minor. The other issues are pornography and fantasying. These four
issues are always asked of me during a polygraph. As Ive said
before, you can only ask those issues a number of ways before a
person becomes sensitized to the types of questions that will be asked
in future polygraphs. There are no surprises. I know what the guy is
going to ask me each time (participant #114).
A sense of distrust for the system also caused many of the
respondents to question not only the reliability of using the polygraph, but
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also the person administering the exam. One participant described the
following experience:
I believe you have to be honest with people. I would be honest with
them and they would turn it against me. They would turn it around.
Prime example, I work across the street from a high school and I told
them that I work across the street from a high school. And he says,
Did you notice any of the young girls? And I said, Sure I did.
Some of the young girls I saw were very beautiful girls. Thats all I
said. When I got the test back, they told me I failed it because I
worked across the street from a high school and that I stated that I
was sexually aroused by the high school girls. I just said that some
of them were very attractive. I also see adult woman that I find to be
attractive. It was nothing sexual. But they turned it around and used
it against me. I dont think the polygraphs are accurate (participant
#129).
Another subject expressed his distrust regarding the accuracy of the
polygraph examination:
I failed two polygraphs early in my therapy. And for a piece of paper
that doesnt mean anything in a court of law, I have to ask why? You
know, how can a computer and one mans opinion is going to
determine whether or not Im telling the truth or lying. They dont
know what Im doing. You go ask the people that are involved in my
life, if Im screwing up, theyll tell you if Im screwing up. If Im
doing good, theyre going to tell you Im doing good. But theres no
way that a computer hooked up to a whole bunch of wires on me is
going to tell you if I am doing good or not. You feel a weeks worth
of nervousness before you go and take one and another weeks worth
of nervousness afterwards, wondering if you passed. I dont see any
benefit to it. In therapy, they say that they use the polygraph to judge
where youre at. You know, maybe theres a question on your
polygraph that came back deceptive or indecisive. Theyll look at
that and tell you that you need to go back and think about that.
Okay, thats fair. Theres the legal side of it when youre on
probation. Theyre holding that polygraph over your head like a
hammer saying, POW! Im going to hit you with it. (participant
#124).
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Another subject expressed the degree of anxiety he experiences every
time he has to take a polygraph:
My general experience with it is that I get really nervous right before
a polygraph and when they are hooking all the wires up on me. Im
just really nervous that even if I am telling the truth, they are going to
tell me that I am lying. I am nervous through the whole process until
I have found out if I have passed or not. Once a year, I dont mind
doing it. I dont think its bad in that case. But going to do it twice a
year, I dont think that makes much of a difference. I have passed
seven in a row. Ive never failed one. I feel like they treat me like I
am going to re-offend even though I have shown that I havent. I
dont like that. They want us to go on with healthy lives, and when
we are doing that and pursuing it, something like that could bring
you down really bad-failing a polygraph when you are telling the
truth. 1 just dont believe the polygraphs are 100% accurate
(participant #113).
Overall, the respondents experienced a high degree of stress when
having to submit to a polygraph test. There was a general lack of trust that
the test results would accurately reflect their progress because of factors
beyond their control, such as nervousness and stress. Many subjects also
believed that the personality and attitudes of the polygraph examiner had a
great deal to do with the level of comfortableness they experienced during
the polygraph examination. Most agreed that the more comfortable they felt
during the examination, the greater the probability that they would pass. The
respondents, however, expressed anger about several polygraph examiners
who they believed were purposely trying to raise their level of stress during
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the exam by using an interrogating style of asking questions or not
explaining questions that were vague or confusing.
5.9 Reasons Sex Offenders Offend or Re-Offend
The offenders understanding of his individual internal and external
triggers is necessary for interrupting his own cycle of sexually victimizing
behaviors. For some this process was less difficult because their crimes
were isolated incidents of victimization, for example, a person who is
intoxicated at a bar and grabs a womans buttocks. Many of the subjects in
this study, however, displayed patterns of behavior that led to numerous acts
of sexual victimization, for example, a person who repeatedly molests his
stepdaughter. Most agreed that regardless of the severity or frequency of
their crimes, the degree of understanding their behavior and their ability to
articulate the stressors that are likely to cause them to relapse were directly
related to receiving treatment.
Although there are a number of factors involved in motivating
someone to sexually victimize others, there were several major themes that
respondents believed contributed to committing their sexual offense(s) and
re-offending:
5.9.1 Loneliness and Isolation
Most participants discussed having a constant feeling of loneliness
and isolation that led them to turn to children who they perceived were much
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more accepting of them than adults. Sex offenders, who did not commit
their crimes against children, also had feelings of loneliness and isolation.
These feelings were displaced inappropriately on other adults by forcing
someone to be intimate with them
5.9.2 Feeling Different
The majority of respondents agreed that they felt different from
others and that this caused them to feel lonely and isolated. Some of the
subjects discussed that they did not have many friends and that they
characterized themselves as loners.
5.9.3 Inability to Form and Maintain Healthy Relationships
Many of the participants discussed that they lacked the social skills
necessary to facilitate healthy adult relationships. Feelings of rejection and
abandonment were talked about as reasons for not being able to initiate and
maintain relationships. Most participants expressed that they were reluctant
to rely on other people and believed that they had to deal with their problems
by themselves.
5.9.4 Low Self-Esteem
A general low self worth and a negative self image also was present
with many of the participants throughout their lives. For some, their low
self-esteem was related to past childhood abuse, and for others it was a
symptom of negative circumstances they were experiencing in their lives.
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Furthermore, child molesters, for example, are individuals who at some time
in their lives may have related sexually to appropriate peers. A variety of
situational stressors (i.e., long unemployment, physical impairment, or
disgrace by a female adult especially regarding sex), however, may have
undermined their confidence. The child molester, then, transfers his need for
sexual gratification to underage individuals who are less threatening (Lin et
al., 2000). Consequently, their low self-esteem worsens as they continue to
commit additional crimes.
5.9.5 Anger
Anger was another major factor that contributed to the respondents
committing their crimes. Many of the respondents believed that they
displaced their anger onto their victims. For some, they were unhappy and
angry in their primary relationships, and in turn, victimized their spouses or
girlfriends daughter as a way of getting even.
5.9.6 Stress
The majority of respondents agreed that they were unable to handle
high levels of stress in their lives appropriately. Most subjects stated that
there were an overwhelming number of stressful events occurring in their
lives prior to committing a sexual offense. The types of stressors that were
discussed included financial problems, marital problems, loss of a family
member or child, and drug and alcohol issues.
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5.9.7 Past Abuse and Conditioned Beliefs about Woman
Another factor that was discussed among participants was the level
that past abuse played in their own behavior. Many of the subjects
interviewed stated that the current treatment they were receiving was the
first time that they had ever dealt with issues surrounding abuse that
happened in their childhood. Past abuse is an obvious link to an offender
repeating the victimization cycle. Other participants who did not experience
any type of abuse, however, recalled how hearing disrespectful or negative
comments about woman from the male figures in the household led them to
become adults who saw woman as sex objects.
Most of the respondents discovered that as they progressed through
treatment and participated in group therapy they began to see improvement
in their self-esteem. The very concept of discussing their offenses and
personal information in a group setting helped them to express themselves
and relate to other adults who were in similar situations, which then
decreased their feelings of loneliness and isolation. Group therapy also
helped many of the participants to realize that they were not alone in their
issues and this resulted in diminishing their sense of feeling different from
others.
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6.
Conclusion
As previous studies suggest, labeling can hinder a persons ability to move
past the criminal identity into more acceptable forms of behavior. According Cullen
and Agnew (1999), overtime, those who have been labeled come to embrace the
idea that they are in fact criminals (p. 271). When an individual adopts a deviant
identity additional criminal acts are more likely to occur as the person begins to act
in accordance with their public and now privately held identity. The initial primary
deviance becomes secondary deviance based on the social interaction process
(Lemert, 1951).
Moreover, in the article Stigma and Social Identity, Erving Gofftnan
defines the term stigma as an attribute that is deeply discrediting. He further
explains the process of stigmatization:
While the stranger is present before us, evidence can arise of his
possessing an attribute that makes him different from others in the
category of persons available for him to be, and of a less desirable
kind, in the extreme, a person who is quite thoroughly bad, or
dangerous, or weak. He is thus reduced in our minds from a whole
and usual person to a tainted, discounted one. Such an attribute is a
stigma, especially when its discrediting effect is very extensive
(1999, p. 57).
Individuals who have acquired a stigma will react by either trying to
correct the stigma if possible or avoiding further stigmatization by isolating
from others.
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The process of labeling and stigmatizing a person is important to
examine in studying sex offenders as well as in evaluating existing laws
implemented for managing sex offenders within the community. Although
the labeling and stigmatization perspectives fail to explain the onset of
sexual offending, the concepts may assist in understanding how this
behavior is maintained. As stated earlier, the sex offender is marked with
one of the most severe stigmas, especially compared to other criminal types.
Additionally, the sex offender stigma remains once the individual is
released from prison, parole, or probation. Many participants of this study
expressed their chagrin over acquiring a sex offender label and the effect this
moniker has on their ability to live successfully in the community.
Furthermore, respondents also believed that existing laws assist in
maintaining the sex offender label resulting in lowered self-esteem and
increased feeling of isolation. As many participants expressed: Once a sex
offender, always a sex offender.
Many respondents were determined, despite limitations and public
perception, to surpass the label placed upon them by completing treatment
and following probationary or parole conditions. The paradox, however, is
that successfully completing treatment and following probationary and
parole requirements does not ensure that society will view them any
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differently because the public holds the misconception that sex offenders
cannot be cured.
The system may be setting sex offenders up to fail by enacting
punitive laws that may violate civil liberties; exposing criminal behavior to
the community; and requiring unrealistic, vague, and overwhelming
probationary, parole, and treatment conditions. Moreover, the voices of sex
offenders must not be ignored because hearing their stories may assist in
implementing laws that will increase protection of the community as well as
create an environment where individuals convicted of sexual offenses can
succeed.
The current trends in legislation gives the impression that sex
offenders will be subjected to lifetime supervision through a number of
different avenues such as placing overwhelming conditions on sex offenders
where probation and parole violations or revocations are almost inevitable,
increasing the frequency of registration and severity of penalties for not
registering, increasing the frequency of polygraph testing, lengthening
treatment to the duration of probation rather than determining treatment by
the offenders level of progress, or by notifying the community, which
creates an uncomfortable atmosphere where the sex offender is essentially
supervised by community members.
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The present study demonstrates the effects that ever-changing laws,
as well as the increasingly stiffer penalties and requirements, have on the
respondents. The question raised by this research is whether current
legislation is worsening the problem rather than solving it. From a
treatment perspective, for example, there is a greater probability that sex
offenders will re-offend if certain triggers are present and their coping
mechanisms to interrupt these triggers are inadequate. Respondents
discussed a number of triggers such as isolation, loneliness, feelings of
being different, overwhelming stress, inadequate social skills, low self-
esteem and prior childhood abuse, that they believed explained or
contributed to their offense or re-offending behavior. These triggers are
extremely important to examine for the purpose of establishing whether
current laws set-up an environment where sex offenders are more likely to
re-offend by escalating feelings of isolation, loneliness, and stress and
diminishing healthy attributes of high self-esteem and strong social skills.
Community notification, for example, may result in community member
ostracizing the offender resulting in further isolation, increased stress due to
harassment, inability to find housing, or jobs because of public exposure.
Furthermore, the family, friends and children of sex offenders are also
targets for harassment and humiliation when the persons sexual offenses are
exposed.
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According to the article, Crime, Shame, and Reintegration, the
author argues shame is necessary for social control in that the offender and
the larger community benefit from a public ceremony in which the criminal
act, but not the criminal, is defined as immoral (Braithwaite, 1989, p. 286).
In order to decrease the probability that the offender will persist in a criminal
lifestyle, however, the shaming must be followed by acts of forgiveness and
support for the purpose of reintegrating the offender into the community
(Braithwaite, 1989). Conversely, shaming followed by stigmatization of the
offender by out-casting and reinforcing the deviant master status, may result
in the offender continuing to commit criminal acts. Braithwaite stated,
unless efforts at reintegration are prolonged and target for change the
known predictors of recidivism, the reform of offenders is unlikely (p. 287).
Current laws, such as registration and community notification,
although shaming in nature, do little to provide an opportunity for the
offender to be reintegrated into the community. In addition, such laws
reinforce the sex offender label or stigma and decrease the likelihood of
progress or change in the offenders behaviors. These are important issues
that legislators should consider when advocating for stricter and more severe
sex offender laws for purposes of managing sex offenders in the community.
Furthermore, it is unrealistic to believe that a specific law or even stricter
laws can eliminate the problem of sexually victimizing behavior. Philip
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Jenkins, author of Moral Panic, best summarizes this concept: The sex
psychopath laws, moreover, are based on the common American
misconception that mere passage of law will solve a social problem (1998,
P- 215).
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Appendix A
Consent Form
University of Colorado at Denver
Research Study
Mary Dodge, Ph.D.
Graduate School of Public Affairs
University of Colorado at Denver
Campus Box 142, P.O. Box 173364
Denver, Colorado 80217-3364
The following is an outline of the purpose, procedures, and risks associated with this
research project.
Purpose:
The purpose of this research is to obtain information regarding your feelings about
court requirements and treatment related to your offense. In addition, we value
your feedback on how these requirements have influenced your life in both positive
and negative ways. The information you provide will be used to explore and
evaluate current public policy.
Procedures:
If I agree to participate, the interview will consist of a discussion and particular
questions about my feelings and/or thoughts regarding how existing treatment and
probation/parole conditions have affected my life. I understand that participation in
this research is entirely voluntary. I may refuse to participate or withdraw from
participation at any time without any negative consequences.
I understand that my participation in this study will involve a 45 to 60-minute
interview. The interview will be conducted individually, any information I disclose
to the researcher is confidential. I understand that the interview will be taped with
my consent so that detailed information can be recorded. The tape(s) will be erased
after the data is transcribed. At any time during the interview, I can decline to
answer any questions and request that the tape recorder be shut off. I understand
that my name will not be identified on any materials including written notes, tapes,
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or documents associated with the research. I also understand that before I am
interviewed, I will be assigned a code number for identification purposes, which
will be recorded on any data I give to the researcher.
Risks:
Any information derived from this research project, which personally identifies me
will not be released or disclosed without my separate consent. I understand that the
researcher will endeavor to keep all information confidential unless compelled by a
court order. The researcher will not willingly relate or report any mention of
criminal behavior. I also understand that I am free to decline answering any
questions I feel would cause undue risk or harm to me in any way.
If at any time, you have comments regarding the research or your participation in it,
you should contact Dr. Mary Dodge at (303) 556-5987. In addition, if you have
comments regarding the conduct of this research or if you wish to discuss your
rights as a research participant, you may contact the Office of Academic Affairs,
CU-Denver Building, Suite 700, (303) 556-2550.
I have received a copy of this consent form.
/ agree to be taped (Please check one)_______________________YES
_____________NO
By signing this form, I consent to participate in this study with the
understanding that I can withdraw at any time.
Signature of Participant
Date
Signature of Investigator
Date
Thank you for your participation.
Code #
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Appendix B
Demographic Worksheet
Code #____________________
1. Age_________________
2. Male or Female? (circle a response)
3. Occupation______________________________________________
4. Education_______________________________________________
3. What is your marital status? (circle a response)
A. Married D. Divorced
B. Single E. Separated
C. Widowed F. Other_____________
4. Do you have children?_______________
5. If yes to question #4, how many children do you have?___
6. What County were you charged in?________________________
7. What were you charged with and what were you convicted of?
8. How long were you incarcerated for your conviction?
9. Are you currently on supervision?
If yes, what type?
_______parole
_______probation
_______other (explain)_________________________________
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10. How long have you been in treatment?__________________________
11. What are the requirements of your probation or parole? (circle all that apply)
A. DNA testing
B. Life Time Supervision
C. Mandatory therapy treatment
D. Registration
E. Polygraphs
F. Plethysmograph
G. Community Notification
E. Other
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