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Age Inappropriate

A casual fling can earn a lifetime label as a sex offender.

He'd actually known the girl from the outside; in fact, they'd had sex before, a couple of years earlier. This time, Tony says, it was a spontaneous coupling. He was in a room by himself, saw her walk by and motioned her to come in. They kissed, and Tony inserted his fingers into her vagina. "This sort of thing goes on a lot in those places," he says. They were caught when a staff member noticed them walking out of the room.

"I didn't know how old the girl was," Tony says. Unfortunately, she turned out to be fourteen. Tony was transferred to the county jail and held on sexual-assault charges, even though there was no indication that the sex had been anything but consensual.

In late 2002, Tony accepted a deal. He pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor. In exchange, he received probation and a four-year deferred sentence: If he stayed out of trouble, the charge would be erased from his record.

He didn't, though, and was picked up for drug possession three months later. That violated the conditions of his probation, and he was sent to prison on the original sex charges. Still, he has declined to participate in the prison's sexual-offender treatment program.

"I just don't want to go in with all kinds of rapists and child molesters," he says. "I messed up, but I'm not in the same category as they are."

The idea that all sex offenders are rarely to be trusted is exemplified in the way the state has managed its inmate population. In November 1998, Colorado legislators passed a law designed to keep a tighter grip on convicted sex offenders. Called the Lifetime Supervision statute, it differs from fixed, or "determinate" sentences, which specify the number of years a prisoner will be incarcerated.

Under the law, the question of whether the offender will ever be released depends on whether corrections officials think he is ready to re-enter society. It could be as little as two years. It could be as long as never.

So far, prison officials have decided to err on the side of caution. In the five years between November 1, 1998, when the law was enacted, and November 2003, when the latest Department of Correction figures were available, 454 sexual offenders had been sentenced under the new law. During that time, a total of two were released. Once you are designated a sex offender, it seems, the die is cast.


On April 5, 2002, Curtis took an offer from the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office and pleaded guilty to sex assault on a child. "I wasn't happy with it, but his attorney assured us that if Curtis did what he had to do, he would have no problem," says Jamie. "And Curtis was just so tired and sick of the courts by then." He was sentenced to four years of probation -- a deal that included mandatory attendance in the sexual-offender program.

As required by state law, Curtis had to register with the local police department as a sexual offender. "It killed him to do that," says Jamie. Curtis waited until the last possible moment before walking into the police station and asking to be placed on the list.

Curtis's therapy began soon after his sentencing. Accepting responsibility for one's crimes and deviant behavior is a mandatory first step before any progress can be made. Treatment providers and offenders often wage fierce battles, especially early in treatment, over denial.

For Curtis, though, accepting responsibility was a problem. After all, he felt he was in trouble because of a poor judgment call, not a sexual deviation. His group therapy sessions were run by T.H.E., or Teaching Humane Existence, one of several private companies that contract with the state to provide treatment for convicted sex offenders ("Arrested Development," December 5, 2002).

Curtis was required to receive counseling every other week and to attend group therapy sessions at T.H.E. once a week. He was also encouraged to show up at "study halls" on the weekends. "I would have to say, 'My name is Curtis, and I sexually assaulted so-and-so on February 17, 2001,'" he remembers. "But I couldn't then say that she lied to me about her age, because that wouldn't be taking responsibility. But if it hadn't been for her age, it wouldn't have been assault!

"Or the counselor would say, 'In your disclosure, you didn't say how you forced this girl to have sex.' And I'd say, 'I didn't!' Then he would say, 'Well, you did, in a sense, because she was only fourteen.'"

In between sessions, Curtis was given homework assignments designed to focus his entire life on addressing his unnatural attraction to young girls. "I had to describe how I wanted little girls," he remembers. "I had to make a safety plan -- like a safe place to go when I coveted little girls, or all the high-risk situations I might encounter. Like, say, what if I was leaving work and stopped off to eat in a restaurant and saw a young girl? I'd have to explain how I'd 'fire drill,' or turn around and go out the opposite side of the restaurant."

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