Sunday, March 9, 2008

CO - Study eyes juvie sex offenders

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A Colorado State University study scheduled to begin this summer could lead to better treatment of juvenile sex offenders.

The study will compile published research on whether current treatment programs for juvenile sex offenders decrease the likelihood of re-offense, said Marc Winokur, director of the Social Work Research Center at CSU, which is conducting the study.

“We’re looking at the dichotomy between juveniles who do something inappropriate due to immaturity vs. those who offend because they’re sexually deviant,” Winokur said.

Under current Colorado law, all people convicted of sex offenses are managed by the Colorado Sex Offender Management Board, which is required by law to follow a rigid set of protocols.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, which can include education on proper sexual boundaries and other topics, is the standard treatment for juvenile sex offenders. The study will look the effectiveness of different lengths and settings — individual vs. group and community-based settings vs. residential treatment facility-based settings — Winokur said.

To put all offenders — adult and juvenile — in one box is a “terrible error” and this study could lead to more flexibility in treatment guidelines, said Mervyn Davies, a therapist who treats and evaluates juvenile and adult sex offenders.

“Kids commit sex crimes for a lot of different reasons,” Davies said. “Kids often do things that adults want to analyze from an adult perspective … They should not be compared to adults. It’s grossly unfair and unjust.”

Better treatment could lead to lower recidivism rates. Recidivism rates for adult sex offenders are difficult to track and can be even harder to track for juvenile offenders, said Kim English, research director for the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, which houses the Sex Offender Management Board.

Sex offenses are still under-reported crimes, English said, partly because the victim is less likely to report if they know the perpetrator. Juvenile offenders are even more likely to know their victims than adult offenders, English said.

“It’s really rare (for a juvenile) to have a stranger as a victim,” she said.

Current research is “quite clear” that juvenile sex offenders are very unlikely to re-offend, something Davies said is “very promising.”

The Larimer County District Attorney’s Office launched a new program about a year ago, that allows juvenile sex offenders to stay out of the system and avoid being labeled a sex offender.

“If they go to court, they’re treated as a sex offender,” said Michelle Brinegar, a chief deputy district attorney and head of the juvenile division. “What we’ve found is that many times with these kids they need intervention.”

The program, which has been completed by six juveniles and currently houses 12 more, requires treatment, but that treatment can be better tailored to the individual, Brinegar said. No participants have failed in the program, she said.

There are approximately 30 juvenile sex offenders under supervision of the Larimer County probation department.

Lumping juveniles who have committed less serious offenses with those who have committed very serious offenses can be harmful because the lower-level offenders can learn from the serious offenders, Brinegar said.

Brinegar said it’s “about time” that someone did a study like Winokur is doing and said it will help her better evaluate what is going to be the best way to handle a case.

Linda Miller, a Fort Collins defense attorney who has had three or four clients go through the DA’s new program , said the program is excellent and she applauded the effort.

There are a lot of kids who might do something stupid once,” she said. “Those are all kids who, if labeled as a sex offender, will be there for the rest of their lives.”

Miller also said she will be interested to see the outcome of the CSU study.

The study is an update of one done a few years ago when there was little research on the topic.

But the volume of research has grown over the past few years as the topic has drawn more attention, Winokur said. The study is not looking at data specific to Colorado, although Winokur said that is something the center hopes to do in the future.

The study is funded by 12 Colorado counties and the Colorado Department of Human Services.

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AL - What’s going on?

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Psychologist, counselor weigh in on middle school students’ sexual behavior

Daphne police a week ago reported two investigations involving the cell phone exchange of nude photos between Daphne Middle School students. Since then, the issue has received widespread attention. The Associated Press and the Web-based Drudge Retort — an alternative to the Drudge Report — are two behemoths that have reported on the issue, along with several blogs and local media outlets like the Bulletin.

Three DMS sixth-graders and a seventh-grader — two boys, two girls — have been suspended for five days in connection with the photo trade and cell phone use, according to Baldwin County schools spokesperson Terry Wilhite.

“Police and school officials continue to investigate this incident,” he said. “From our perspective, at this point it appears that this ... is limited to four students.”

Teenagers using multimedia messaging to exchange nude photos of themselves is nothing new — a group of 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls at Farmington Junior High School in Utah traded headless nude self-portraits on cell phones in January, spurring the state’s attorney general to determine how to handle such cases according to Fox News — but until now, it had never been reported in the Jubilee City, police said.

It’s also a first for Baldwin County public schools, Wilhite said.

“It appears to be a first (nude photo exchange), however, it is not the first disruption that we’ve had by cell phones, and this is the very reason that administrators support a cell phone ban,” Wilhite said.

The Baldwin County Board of Education in August 2006 enacted such a rule, prohibiting students’ use of portable communication devices.

“Cell phones have been used to cheat on tests, they have been used to interrupt the educational days,” Wilhite said. “The camera function of the phone is as much of a disruption as the ability to receive or make calls.”

DMS students’ use of the phones to transmit what police called child pornography is “disappointing but, no, it is not surprising,” Wilhite said. “If you’ve got tech-savvy students you will have students making bad decisions about technology and we’ve seen that before.”

Still, the question remains: What’s a child’s motivation for such behavior?

Dr. Sonya Rogers, a certified counselor, said she believes the prevalence of the Internet, coupled with the rise of two-income homes, may play a role.

There’s more technology and more parents working, so a lot of students are even more home alone than they used to be,” she said.

The Internet, filled with adult Web sites that lack password protection, and unsolicited e-mails with mature content, are two ways that children can learn about sexual exploration.

Whatever the origin, teachers see the effects of lost innocence every day, Rogers said.

“I would bet that, say, half the students we teach in the middle school level are still very innocent and there to learn, but then you have the other half who seem to know what high school students used to know when I was in school.

“They’re more worldly than they used to be, that’s for sure.”

The classroom environment — due to students’ attitudes — seems to have changed over the years, Rogers said, adding that many students are still there to learn, but some see school as a social opportunity.

“I can remember years ago when you could walk in a classroom and it would be very quiet; you could teach a lesson and do assessments and feel good about what they learned, where today at the middle school level, you spend a lot of time just saying, ‘Sit down, be quiet,’ ” she said.


Multimedia messaging on school property certainly isn’t the only outlet children have used to transmit sexual materials. Social networking Web sites on the Internet provide a forum on which several children, in the privacy of their own bedroom, have posted suggestive photographs and text.

“Martha,” resident of a neighboring county, said she caught her 12-year-old daughter “Amy” exchanging lascivious notes with male classmates at her middle school. She learned about the exchanges last month, when she entered Amy’s bedroom to check on the sleeping child, whose laptop was resting on her chest. Amy awoke abruptly, and said she would close it herself.

That was a red flag, Martha said, adding that her daughter’s suspicious behavior prompted her to view the Web page on the screen. When she did, she found messages that contained explicit content.

For instance, Amy inquired about one boy’s sex life, to which he replied that he uses her pictures for sexual gratification; she also asked when she and another boy could have sex, according to transcripts of the messages.

“I was shocked ... in disbelief, but it was right there in front of my face,” Martha said. “She (Amy) couldn’t deny it ... .”

Martha was appalled by her daughter’s use of frank, sexual slang — words that she and her live-in boyfriend don’t even use.

“When I asked her about it, she said it was a joke,” Martha said. “I told her, ‘I’m 30 years old and me and Mark don’t talk to each other like that.’ ”

Martha believes the Internet is to blame for the proliferation of adult language and behaviors among adolescents. However, she said, Amy “didn’t act like this until after the separation, divorce, move and her grandmother’s death ... plus she just started sixth grade.

“Middle school is completely different — there’s older kids and (sexual) experimenting.”


Dr. C. Van Rosen, a Daphne psychologist, said the actions of DMS students and Amy are not uncommon for children their age.

This behavior by children has been going on ever since there were children and this is a variation of ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,’ which has been around since time immemorial,” Rosen said. “They’re making an issue out of this because it’s a new means of doing it: via electronic transmission.”

For Amy, the explicit messages likely signal normal sexual development, and are not the product of a hectic home or school life as her mother believed, Rosen said.

Any parent that believes their children at 12 have not had exposure — through the media and everyday living — to sexuality and sexually explicit words is extremely naive,” he said. “There’s no way you’re going to quarantine children against this except by the most drastic cult-like activities.”

Regarding the DMS students, Rosen expressed concern about the possible legal repercussions. Offenses could range from dissemination or display of child pornography, a class B felony, to material harmful to minors, a misdemeanor, according to police. However, the charges would be handled on a case-by-case basis.

“It would be very difficult to consider this child pornography by any rational person,” he said. “To label a child as as sex offender is a monumental decision that’s going to affect them the rest of their life in all likelihood and in such a case, as we’re talking about, they’re taking essentially a variant of normal sexual curiosity and development, and pathologizing it.”

Wilhite expressed that the best school for how to deal with sex, as it pertains to new technologies, is in the home.

The ultimate responsibility lies with the parent who makes the choice of whether or not to buy a cell phone and if the decision is made to buy a cell phone, one would hope that there’s a great measure of guidance given to that child,” he said.

Parents should teach their kids about sex, rather than hide the issue under the bed, Rosen said.

“First of all, it can’t be done,” he said of ignoring the issue. “Secondly, it’s impractical and it won’t work; and third, sexuality is an important part of the world and you need to teach your child to be conversive with it ... and try to train them in your views of it.

“By ignoring it, you’re like the person who doesn’t vote, who can’t complain about the government.”

CO - No one seems responsible as society rots

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Everybody has to have their scapegoat!


Last month I was shopping for several Valentine’s Day cards, and Hallmark offered a couple that depicted a little boy and a little girl holding hands. One card illustrated two kids sitting on the front porch kissing, with little hearts floating into the clouds.

In Denver, I suppose, these cards could be considered child porn. After all, the Denver district attorney is now prosecuting middle-school principal who didn’t report two boys inappropriately touching a girl, even though the principal suspended the boys. Since then, according to a report in the Rocky Mountain News, paranoid Denver school employees have been inundating police and prosecutors with reports of possible sexual predators, including two 5-year-old kids seen kissing at school.

Why isn’t Hallmark being named as a potential unindicted co-conspirator for promoting sexual abuse?

I recall an occasion when I was about 7 years old, apparently a late bloomer by modern standards, holding hands with a classmate on the way to school, and stopping behind a discarded Christmas tree on a street curb to kiss. My co-victim shall remain nameless, but it was our first and last kiss together.

Presumably if that same scene were to unfold today, a passing teacher on her way to work would have to report witnessing a crime - or risk being charged with a crime herself.

Since the Denver case against the school principal became public several weeks ago, the city’s Department of Human Services, reports of suspected child abuse and neglect from the school system have increased by 76.7 percent.

That is a frightening statistic, given the challenges of school teachers today. They have enough to do without also being moral and criminal police on matters that not even police and prosecutors can agree upon.

In the Denver situation, there is a vague middle area of the law, with school administrators, police and prosecutors arguing about what constitutes “immediate” reporting of a suspected crime and what is properly defined as “reasonable” suspicion of “criminal” activity. If the attorneys can’t agree, how can a school employee be expected to make the right decision - under threat of criminal prosecution?

My wife, now a retired teacher from the ranks of DPS, tells stories of little children coming to her classroom, late to school, undernourished, poorly groomed and insufficiently clothed. She used to take one little boy into the restroom, with the door left open for obvious reasons, and clean him up - wiping his face and combing his hair, before class started.

Late in her classroom career, she was hesitant to provide such compassionate care for fear of being reported for suspicious “touching.” Today she would be exposed to an even greater risk.

It’s all a part of our society becoming more litigious and less trusting. It’s the government’s responsibility to feed our kids, give them inoculations, police their sexual behavior and issue them passing grades. It’s OK for parents to send them to school hungry, poorly clothed, medically indigent, rude, crude and dumb.

We don’t seem to care if the child has only one parent or if the family is in the United States illegally, or if the homework is done diligently.

Our society has become sadly, dismally dysfunctional. Parents want to blame teachers, police want to prosecute teachers, churches are ridiculed, irresponsible fathers are accepted as the norm, 8-year-old kids are equipped with cell phones and back packs stuffed with video games to keep them happy, kids don’t have paper routes to earn their spending money, school buses haul them to class, bus drivers are difficult to find because of liability problems, criminal background checks have to be conducted on potential Boy Scout pack leaders, illegal immigrants are accommodated in schools and hospitals, taxes rise as the dependent class increases, and on and on and on.

No one is responsible, and everyone has somebody else to blame.

Forget about those two kids kissing. What we’re really doing is kissing the future of our country good-bye.

Chuck Green, veteran Colorado journalist and former editor-in-chief of The Denver Post, syndicates a statewide and is at