Two Grand Island counselors believe that being on the Nebraska Sex Offender Registry unfairly stigmatizes many of the people who are on the list.
Carole and Jerome Denton don’t like the way all sex offenders are grouped together. Offenders who are low-risk and have been successfully rehabilitated present little danger to other people, Carole Denton said.
Most sex offenses are committed by people the victim knows and trusts, she said.
Trouble finding jobs
Many people listed on the Sex Offender Registry have trouble getting jobs or living accommodations, even though the offenses they committed were comparatively minor or they have truly been rehabilitated, the Dentons said. Being on the Registry destroys their lives and their families, Carole Denton said.
They agree that dangerous predators need to be on the Sex Offender Registry. But they say most people who have been arrested and rehabilitated will not reoffend. “One size does not fit all,” she said.
Carole Denton said people shouldn’t be defined by the worst thing they’ve ever done.
Using science and research, therapists have become skilled at learning which offenders present a high risk to society, Carole Denton said.
Carole Denton works with the courts in assessing the risks presented by sex offenders.
Jerry Denton, her husband, treats offenders over a year-long period that includes weekly sessions. He is a licensed clinical psychologist. She is a licensed independent mental health practitioner.
The Dentons do not want to give people the idea they side with or defend sex offenders. Their goals are to protect society and to rehabilitate the offenders.
The number of registered sex offenders in Hall County hovers around 150.
Lex Ann Roach, executive director of the Crisis Center, sees value in the Sex Offender Registry.
While it’s true that most sexual assaults involve people who know each other, it’s also helpful to know if an acquaintance has engaged in nonconsensual sex, Roach said. If you’re possibly establishing a relationship with someone who has engaged in nonconsensual sex in the past, “It’s in your own best interests to know that,” Roach said.
If the Sex Offender Registry didn’t exist, “that’s going to take away one of your tools to know that,” Roach said. The information is helpful to parents as well as the people involved, she said.
Monitoring the list
The Hall County Sheriff’s Department monitors people on the Sex Offender Registry, making sure they’re living where they say they’re living and that they’re following the rules.
“I think that the Sex Offender Registry serves a purpose,” said Hall County Sheriff Jerry Watson. However, he thinks sometimes “it’s a little overzealous” because people who make mistakes when they’re young “probably shouldn’t be on it as long as they are. But that’s just my opinion.”
People sometimes react strongly when the hear the term “sex offender,” Watson said. “And they’ve got to live somewhere,” he said.
There probably should be a procedure in place in which some offenders, after a certain number of years, may ask to have their names removed from the registry, Watson said. He’s referring to people who made a mistake when they were young and have been good citizens since.
For too long, people have pretended that “we didn’t understand what was or wasn’t consent.” Roach said. Society has allowed a gray area to exist between what is or isn’t consent, she said.
In reality, the issue is very black and white, Roach said. “Yes is yes. No is no. And if I can’t tell you no, that’s no. Lack of yes qualifies as no.”
In treating sex offenders, Jerry Denton confronts them about what they did and insists they take responsibility for the pain they caused.
“I try to make it as thorough and as powerful as I possibly can,” he said. “It’s a very forceful program that doesn’t allow them to do anything but confront what happened.”
He demands meaningful repentance, he said.
If Jerry Denton senses denial, there might be some “tough sledding” for a while. But once they get past that, most of the offenders come to appreciate the one-on-one treatment, he said. Most of them want their lives back and want to prove to society that they’re better, she said.
Jerry Denton wants those people to be good citizens in every way — at work, at play and in how they treat family and friends.
A 19-year-old who had sex with a 15-year-old should not be grouped in with people who are truly dangerous, the Dentons say.
The best way to protect people is to educate them about the methods that sexual predators use to “groom” their victims, Carole Denton said.
Those methods are consistent and recognizable, she said. Many sex offenders are narcissistic, which means they lack empathy. They don’t know how their victims feel, Carole Denton said. Many have difficulty with adult relationships and identify most with children.
Most of the truly dangerous people are mentally ill, she said.
The Dentons would like to see top-notch mental health practitioners in charge of the evaluation system.
The Crisis Center, which serves four counties, would welcome hearing from anyone who feels they have been subjected to nonconsensual sexual contact. “We would very much like to help them and work with them,” Roach said.
The phone number of the Crisis Center is (308) 381-0555.
Conducting a study
In 2013, Ryan Spohn of the University of Nebraska at Omaha was commissioned by the Legislature to conduct a study of the Nebraska Sex Offender Registry.
The current system was created by the Legislature in 2009, following a national trend resulting from a federal law known as the Adam Walsh Children Protection and Safety Act of 2006. The previous system estimated the risk of registered sex offenders to reoffend. The current system categorizes offenders by the duration of their registration.
Spohn wrote that the former system resulted in less overall recidivism. That system, he wrote, used a psychological risk assessment tool that consistently distinguished offenders who were at a high, medium and low risk to reoffend.
The current system appears most effective at distinguishing the highest risk offenders from everyone else, Spohn wrote.
But the current arrangement consistently fails to distinguish offenders at medium risk to recidivate from those who are at low risk to repeat their crimes, he wrote.
Spohn draws conclusions that echo the argument of the Dentons. “Research suggests that most sex offenders do not reoffend sexually over time,” he wrote.
The Dentons do not just work as counselors for sex offenders. They point out that they have a long history of providing therapy for victims of trauma and abuse.
They have found that most perpetrators also have a history of abuse but then act it out by hurting others as they were hurt. Oftentimes, victims are family members. The Dentons’ ultimate goal is to provide healing for the family system and to stop the cycle of abuse.