Arrested Development

Robert Wayne Rosberg is a convicted sex offender.

Some would say he shouldn't be allowed the luxury of rejoining society. He should be locked up forever. Castrated. Even killed.

But since none of those measures are possible, a judge ordered Rosberg to enter Teaching Humane Existence, a nineteen-year-old Denver treatment program for adult male sex offenders whose founder believes there is no cure for his clients. Rather than rehabilitation, the goal is containment and group therapy to help the men control their urges. For Rosberg, that meant reporting his every action and desire to his therapist, having his penis wired to an arousal detector and feeling hopeless.

The head of T.H.E., Greig Veeder, says the methods, which also include making patients sniff vials of ammonia and rancid meat, are simply realistic approaches to handling "these people." If Veeder can convince the community and the legislature that he's right, T.H.E., a nonprofit, hopes to obtain state funding to open a 300-man sex-offender campus in the metro area, where patients would live under tight supervision, presumably for the rest of their lives.

But Rosberg and others who want help for their problem -- who believe help is possible -- say there's nothing humane about T.H.E.

Robert Rosberg led what he considers a normal life with a normal childhood. The tall, fit 46-year-old was born in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, the only son and oldest of four children. "My dad was an executive who turned around failing companies," Rosberg says with his slight Southern drawl. His mom was a homemaker. "We moved every two to three years until we ended up in Texas when I was sixteen and stayed there." But there is something vulnerable about Robert Rosberg -- a result, perhaps, of growing up gay in the South.

Rosberg went to Texas Christian University for three years (where he had his only healthy adult relationship, which lasted two years) but dropped out to take a job with Safeway. He worked in several of the chain's stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, making sure their computers operated properly. In 1990 he moved to Denver to take a position with Safeway's Rocky Mountain headquarters, but he later left for his present job at a construction-equipment manufacturer, where he's a freight expeditor.

Two years after moving to Colorado, Rosberg met a fourteen-year-old boy through a co-worker. Rosberg became close to the boy's family and, with the mother's permission, often had the teen stay overnight. Rosberg says the boy told him that he was attracted to older men, and the two would cuddle and "rub up on each other," on their nights together. "I woke up one night and he was on top of me, trying to penetrate me through my underwear," Rosberg remembers. "I pulled him off me." But on another night, Rosberg tried to perform oral sex on his young friend. The boy resisted, and Rosberg claims he didn't push it.

It was during this time that the boy confessed to Rosberg that he'd been molested by an uncle and assaulted by Denver police officer Anthony Helfer. (Four years later, Helfer would be sentenced to eight years in prison for sexually assaulting teenage boys.) After the fellatio incident, Rosberg says he advised the boy to tell his family what had happened with Helfer and his uncle. "But then he told his uncle that I had assaulted him, and the uncle called the police, and I ended up getting arrested."

Rosberg pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a child and was sentenced to four years of probation and one year of therapy. He also had to place his name on the state's convicted sex-offender registry and inform his employer.

"At the time, I felt like he was the aggressor because he approached me. I figured there was rape and there was consensual sex, and if it was consensual, it was okay," Rosberg says. "I wasn't forcing him; he was happily coming to my house, and he always instigated it. But I am the adult, and I should have stopped it."

He didn't, though, and seven years later, he would again have sexual involvement with young men. In July 1999, Rosberg was riding his bike around the Cherry Creek Reservoir when it started raining. He decided to wait out the storm beneath a shelter, where he met someone -- a young man Rosberg thought was in his twenties. He bought the man a beer at the marina, and the man asked Rosberg if he wanted a ride home. Rosberg accepted. "I offered to buy a pizza to thank him, and he asked if we could rent a movie instead," Rosberg says. The young man didn't want to rent just any movie, however: He wanted to see a porn film featuring anal sex.