SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Child sex offenders. More than 2,000 are behind bars in Utah. A majority of them will be released and returned to the community.
ABC4 asks the following question: ‘Can child molesters be rehabilitated back into society and not re-offend?’
Brittany Johnson sat down with a convicted child molester who preyed upon and abused 21 children in his Utah neighborhood.
“I’ve had to confess to my crimes so many times that it makes me ill,” the offender said.
During his reign of terror, the man victimized his own two children. ABC4 agreed to conceal the man’s identity in an effort to protect his victims.
“OK, I blew it being a good father. But my intentions were always good,” he said.
Court documents reveal that the predator exposed himself and touched children, ages 4-15, inappropriately, over a 5-10-year period.
The man told ABC4 that he wanted to teach his kids about sex because growing up, his parents never taught him about it.
“I wanted my kids to be educated, but it was hard to tell the difference between just keeping it on an education level and not get involved in the sex part of it, because like I said, it was enjoyable.”
Records also state that the man had sexual intercourse and sodomized some of his victims.
“I was working with my religious leader because I realized that I had gone too far and this was not right. I was talking to him and going to LDS social services, but once you’ve committed the crime there’s no way out.”
A court-ordered psychological evaluation found his “ability to rationalize his sexual offenses is of extreme proportion and borders on delusional.”
“I find young children beautiful and sweet and innocent and I could see how it’s considered disgusting,” said the offender.
The perpetrator served time in prison from 1997-2009. The self-proclaimed reformed pedophile asserts the therapy he received in prison successfully rehabilitated him.
“Therapy works if the person having the therapy believes it, puts it into effect and understands it and they have to want to make it work,” he stated. “My main deterrent is knowing what I want for the future and to be with my family and to be a free person,” he said while crying.
Brittany Johnson spoke with Mace Warren, Clinical Director for Alpha Counseling & Treatment, Inc., for insight into the rehabilitation of child sex offenders.
The provider treats about 1,000 child sex offenders annually.
“If rehabilitation is based solely on, does the person return back to prison after committing a new sex crime? Then we’re very successful with that. If rehabilitation is, they never have an adverse thought about a child again, then maybe not so much,” Warren said.
Even after therapy and treatment, Warren says offenders can still have an attraction toward children.
“That will happen. There’s some theories out there that would say your sexual attraction doesn’t necessarily change, it expands over time.”
To help offenders cope with their adverse attraction towards children, the treatment center relies on cognitive behavioral therapy which helps offenders recognize deviant thoughts and allows them to respond to challenging situations in a more effective way.
“Based on what we know in terms of treatment, if you’re using a cognitive behavioral therapy model with the risk-need-responsivity principles, you’re going to see a dramatic reduction in risk of recidivism for offenders who are leaving treated versus untreated,” the clinical director explained.
The latest data from the Department of Justice supports Warren’s claim. The research shows the average recidivism rate for sex offenders receiving CBT at 9-percent, and the recidivism rate for untreated sex offenders at 21-percent.
There is also contrasting research that contends treatment for sex offenders does not work. The statement has been a source of debate for decades.
One study finds that the effectiveness of treatment depends on a number of factors, including the type of offender, the type of treatment and how much management, supervision and support the offender has.
According to the Utah Department of Corrections, there 2,262 inmates under the supervision of the Utah Department of Corrections who are considered child sex offenders. This number includes inmates at the Utah State Prison in Draper, the Central Utah Correctional Facility and state inmates in county jails.
“There are 472 of the 2,262 offenders in active treatment, and for 2019, only two inmates have refused treatment, while several have been removed from the program for program and rules violations with the opportunity to reapply for admission in 90 days,” Kaitlin Felsted, Spokesperson for the Dept. Of Corrections, explained through email.
Felsted also noted that not all of the 2,262 offenders are flagged and waiting for treatment.
According to Warren, child sex offender treatment for inmates is optional, with those choosing not to participate often having to serve their full sentence without parole.
“What we do know is that those who go untreated are more at risk for committing new sex crimes, versus those who have been treated and transitioned to the community, are much less likely to commit those crimes.”
Despite the fact, authorities sent the convicted child molester interviewed in this story back to prison in 2015 for violating his parole.
“To be completely cured is difficult but you can change enough where it’s not an issue anymore,” the offender said.
During the interview, the ex-con insisted that he is the safest person is his community.
“I believe I’m the safest person in this neighborhood. Not only because of what I’ve gone through but knowing what I did and knowing the law, I know what to look for.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of child sex abuse, call the Utah Child Abuse Reporting Hotline at (855) 323-3237.