Arrested Development

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In addition, "maintenance" polygraphs are given at least every six months to make sure they're staying honest. The sex offenders have to pay for the exams, which cost about $225. If the perpetrators fail their polygraphs, additional restrictions are placed on them. If they continue to fail the exams, T.H.E. uses the results as a reason to kick them out of the program and send them back to prison -- even though polygraphs aren't admissible in court.

Rosberg failed all four of his polygraphs and admits that he lied because he was angry that he had to keep answering the same questions. Because of his deceit, T.H.E. decided he'd have to move up a containment level and into an SLA.

When he learned this, Rosberg says, he fell deeper into despair. Upon the suggestion of his probation officer, who'd reportedly noticed his mood change, Rosberg started seeing a private therapist and was diagnosed with depression.

When Rosberg brought up the fondling incident during a meeting with his T.H.E. therapist and probation officer, he claims the therapist told him, "You live among sex offenders; you should expect that kind of thing."

Rosberg was initially shocked by the statement, but he now says that his therapist's attitude is indicative of the way T.H.E. views its clients: as parasites on society.

As such, former and current clients point to what they say are T.H.E.'s medieval treatment methods, including the penile plethysmograph (PPG), which as recently as January 2002 was under investigation by the European High Court of Human Rights. The device not only measures offenders' arousal but supposedly proves that they can't get away with lying. An offender can't say he's no longer thinking dirty thoughts about little boys when, in fact, the "peter meter" shows otherwise.

Once a year, clients at T.H.E. are brought into a room where, individually, they sit down before a screen. With their pants down and a wire attached to their penis, they view pastoral scenes of lakes and falling leaves. They use a slide-show clicker to advance to the next photo, and with each click, the pictures grow more risqué, although none are pornographic. Some are of women in lingerie, others are of shirtless men. Many are of children. All the while, an audio recording of a man whispering suggestive things plays. "I'll never forget this: There was a photo of a newborn baby and a voice-over saying, 'I'd like to snap you up and carry you off,'" says Rosberg. "It was just sick."

His PPG revealed an attraction to adult men and primary-school-age boys. Rosberg admits being attracted to teenagers and young men but disputes being turned on by younger boys. "That was an out-and-out lie," he says of the finding.

Another method T.H.E. clients complain about is the use of noxious smells as a deterrent to perversion. On their own time, sex offenders are supposed to sniff a vial containing ammonia or rotten meat whenever they start to entertain a deviant fantasy. In the daily journals they're required to keep, the offenders are supposed to report all of their sexual thoughts and the methods used to stave them off. Sometimes they're quizzed about their truthfulness on those matters during polygraphs.

For the opportunity to participate in this therapy, patients pay $500 a month.

Greig Veeder, executive director of Teaching Humane Existence, isn't surprised by the criticism. He's heard it all before. Sex offenders, he says, are adept at coming up with excuses for their behavior and blaming everyone but themselves for their predicament.

Denial and minimization are hallmarks of a sex offender's psyche. These men, he explains, often blame the victim for seducing them, even when the victim is a child; they often portray themselves as victims; and they lie constantly, saying that the only offenses they committed were the ones for which they were caught. As proof, Veeder cites Colorado Department of Corrections statistics: In 1998, DOC records showed that the median number of known victims per sex offender was two, but after taking polygraphs, offenders revealed that they'd assaulted a median of 184 victims before being caught.

Given the mental distortions of sex offenders, it's a colossal understatement to say that Veeder has a tough job. And it was a job no one else wanted nineteen years ago when he started his program. A Missouri native who had earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work, Veeder was working with abusive husbands and was on the board of the Colorado Association for Sex Therapy in 1983, making him one of the only professionals in the state dealing with men, sex and violence.

A Jefferson County probation officer who had been noticing a spike in his sex-assault caseload approached Veeder about starting a treatment program for sex offenders. The early 1980s marked the beginning of a rise in sex-crime arrests that has yet to subside; Veeder attributes the increase to the feminist and domestic-violence movements of the 1970s. "Other forms of abuse were getting more recognition, and that led to more awareness and more reporting of sexual assaults," he says. Without fully realizing what he was getting into, Veeder agreed to help.

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon