The Boys Next Door

In the rush to ban sex offenders, cities and counties may inadvertently be creating more of them down the line.

"Jeffco was the nail in this coffin," says Arlene Martinez Meads, Lost and Found's child placement services director. "At one of the meetings, a commissioner said, 'You'll never convince me that they're victims first or that they're innocent children.' And I thought to myself, 'Never were more ignorant words spoken.'"


Sean, one of thirteen kids in his family, is a wiry blonde who graduated with honors from high school this month. He looks like any other teenager, except his shorts and T-shirt are a little less scruffy, his hair just a little more G.I. He's into sports and Junior ROTC. His lifelong dream, he says, is to join the military.

Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.
John Johnston
Juliana Ibarra, foster mother and martyr for the cause of juvenile sex offenders.

But the chances of Sean getting into the Navy are "slim to zero," says Lost and Found's Hargett.

Sean, Hargett testified in court earlier this year, is the product of incest going back at least three generations. He was so young when it happened that he can't remember the first time he was abused.

"I figured it's just something that happens, you know," Sean says. "So I didn't really think about it. I don't know what I thought."

He lived with his mother until he was eight, when he moved in with his father and his father's new family. At age twelve, Sean was charged with molesting his stepsister. His life since then has consisted of group homes, treatment centers, foster homes, social workers, probation officers and therapists.

He moved into the Ibarra home a year ago.

"It would be very difficult to define whether he's a perpetrator or a victim," Hargett says of Sean.

Hargett says this about a lot of the young people who come through his center.

And many treatment providers make similar observations. In a report to the director of Jefferson County Human Services, child welfare coordinator Sue McDonald wrote, "Our experience is consistent with the literature in that the vast majority of these youngsters have experienced severe trauma and sexual victimization themselves, and are acting out sexually in an effort to deal with their own victimization...While they are clearly perpetrators, they are most often victims as well. They are clearly responsible for their behavior, yet they are most often the products of their circumstances."

Treatment providers believe that these perpetrators, sometimes called "sexually reactive" children, are trying to overcome their own abuse by repeating the behavior against others. "When kids are stressed out, emotionally overloaded, like the rest of us, their defenses come up," says Gail Ryan, director of the Perpetration Prevention Program at Denver's Kempe Children's Center.

"As part of their defense, they try to imagine what they could do to feel better and get back that sense of control. For kids, their fantasy develops into something compensatory or retaliatory that makes others feel as bad as they do." And many times these kids have learned to be abusive because they were exposed to role models who were abusive.

For young people, she says, sexual assault is much more about power than deviancy, which is what sets them apart from their adult counterparts.

Adolescents tend to be aroused by a wide variety of stimuli. Sexually, they're much more fluid than adults, and they haven't internalized any particular kind of sexual behavior. They are not as likely as adults to have fantasies directly related to their offenses. And changing an adolescent's behavior and the way he deals with stress is considerably easier than changing an adult's sexual preferences and arousal patterns.

But research shows that as untreated juvenile offenders grow toward adulthood, their crimes increase in frequency, severity and level of coercion. The sexually abusive patterns and the accompanying arousal and fantasies become increasingly habitual, and the sexual deviance becomes more significant. A 1982 study among adult rapists and child molesters found that as many as 60 to 80 percent of adult sex offenders had committed sex assaults during adolescence.

That understanding led to a nationwide commitment among therapists and criminal-justice agencies to identify sex offenders early and intervene. When sex offenders are identified at an early age and placed in proper treatment, the success rate is extremely good -- as high as 93 percent, based on recidivism rates.

"The juvenile courts were created originally to act as a kind and benevolent parent to turn kids around, to take those who are clearly violating the norms of the community and give them some incentive to reshape themselves," Ryan says. "When we ostracize them, we lose the expectation of them conforming to the community."


Adam was four, he says, when he was sexually assaulted the first time, by an older brother. His brother told him it was "hush, hush," and "just between them."

"My brother said he would beat me up if I told," Adam says.

Adam was eight when he molested his sister, ten or eleven when his family discovered what was happening and Social Services plucked him from the house. Though his age kept him out of the court system and his name off the sex-offender registry, he was sent to do time in a boot camp, a foster home and a residential treatment center. He went to live with the Ibarras four years ago.

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1 comments
thiagodaluz7
thiagodaluz7

I won't  use a blanket statement like "everyone deserves a second chance", but I do believe that these folks do. Its kind of sad how society can be with labels sometimes. Tearing people down, not giving them a chance when more than one professional has said they can do better, its not fair. People like Harl and his <a href="http://www.achildsdream.org">child placement agency</a> shouldn't have to have these concerns.

 
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