Arrested Development

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On Thursdays, Rosberg's group session was open to general discussion, but he says he didn't get much out of it. "You're competing with nine other guys for your issues," he says of the hour-and-a-half sessions.

"Tom," a T.H.E. client, shares Rosberg's views on the therapy sessions. But he's mostly concerned with T.H.E. lumping all sex offenders together in the program. Tom was convicted of sexually assaulting a woman and can't understand why he's in group therapy with men who have sodomized little boys. "The treatment plan is formulaic. The same thing is used for everyone," he says, adding that his was a one-time offense. "I am not a predator. I believe I belong in therapy, but I don't believe I belong in a program like this."

Gordon Petersen, a psychiatrist in private practice, has seen several T.H.E. clients who were referred to him for help with other problems, such as mood disorders. Strict supervision is necessary for repeat, violent offenders, Petersen says, but not milder ones. "The main problem I see with T.H.E. is its failure to discriminate between someone who's very sick and someone with an isolated episode who doesn't require supervision for the rest of his life. Not everyone is severe, and if you treat everyone as though they are, you're not doing your job."

T.H.E. requires offenders in medium containment to visit SLAs every weekend as a way of involving them more in their treatment and supporting those in maximum containment. Rosberg was assigned to visit a home in Montbello, where four sex offenders were living without any official supervision. The widely accepted theory among authorities in Colorado and elsewhere is that the best watchdogs for sex offenders are other sex offenders -- a theory many perpetrators and communities find laughable.

One afternoon in August 2001, Rosberg went to the Montbello SLA for a barbecue -- just a bunch of sex offenders outside enjoying the warm summer day. "We could have been having an orgy, God only knows," Rosberg says, rolling his eyes. While he was in the kitchen, he claims, another sex offender fondled him. Although Rosberg reported the incident to his therapist and to the police, he says nothing ever came of it.

Hopelessness started setting in after that. He was learning that other offenders had been in the program for several years, and no one, it seemed, could get out. When offenders enter T.H.E., they aren't told how long they'll be in treatment - only that they'll remain in the program until they've successfully completed it. But no success stories have ever been shared with them.

Tom and Rosberg say it's unclear what T.H.E. expects of offenders. "They don't see anything through to completion," Tom says. "They just skip around a lot. There are certain things that the Sex Offender Management Board says need to be done before you can complete a treatment program, but T.H.E. will never say you've successfully completed any of them. I expect they'll keep me here for ten years or more. Either that or they'll put me in prison."

Rosberg, Tom and others in T.H.E. say their hopelessness is exacerbated by the shame they are made to feel by their therapists -- many of whom are just interns or nurses, not licensed therapists.

"When I first started at T.H.E., one of the therapists stressed to me that I'm a sex offender. She said, 'How does that make you feel?' I said, 'Well, it's a label.' And she said, 'No, how do you really feel, deep down?' She told me to think about it for a week and then come back and tell her. After group, one of the guys told me, 'You're going to have to tell her you're a horrible, sick person, because that's what they want to hear.' So I went back the next week and told her that I'm a bad person," Rosberg says. "What therapeutic value is there in that? Just beating someone into submission and making them think there's no hope of getting better isn't therapy."

As part of their therapy, sex offenders in T.H.E.-- and every treatment program in Colorado -- take routine polygraphs; that way, their therapists will have some idea whether they've been reoffending. During the sexual-history polygraph, Rosberg explains, "You have to tell them everything you've done that involves sex since you were in the womb."

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon