Patty Wetterling questions sex offender laws

The outspoken activist has a change of heart over the wide-reaching scope of laws she helped put into action

Virtually all the major laws regarding sex offenders have been passed in the wake of grisly, high profile crimes against kids and, like Megan's Law, they bear victims' names as somber memorials. The laws tend to fuel the impression that sex offenders are a uniform class of creepy strangers lurking in the shadows who are bound to attack children over and over again.

That's what Wetterling used to believe about sex offenders, too. Yet over the course of two decades immersed in the issue, she found her assumptions slowly chipped away. Contrary to the widely held fear of predatory strangers, she learned that abductions like Jacob's are extremely rare, and that 90 percent of sexual offenses against children are committed by family members or acquaintances. While sex offenders are stereotyped as incurable serial abusers, a 2002 Bureau of Justice study found that they in fact have a distinctly low recidivism rate of just 5.3 percent for other sex crimes within three years of being released from prison.

Though the term "sex offender" itself seems to reflexively imply child rapist, a broadening number of so-called victimless crimes are forcing people onto the rolls. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 28 states require registration for consensual sex between teenagers, 13 for public urination, 32 for exposing genitals in public, and five for soliciting adult prostitutes. Restricting where sex offenders can live, in many cases forcing them into homelessness and disconnecting them from family and social support, hasn't had any quantifiable reduction on the rate of sexual abuse. And many sex offenders are really children themselves: Juveniles make up more than a third of those convicted of sex offenses against children, and their high amenability to treatment suggests that their youthful mistakes don't predict a lifetime of abuse to come.

Cordelia Anderson, a child sexual abuse expert, met Wetterling not long after Jacob's abduction
courtesy of Anderson
Cordelia Anderson, a child sexual abuse expert, met Wetterling not long after Jacob's abduction
Sen. David Durenberger worked with Wetterling to create the first major piece of federal sex offender legislation, which passed in 1994
Greg Helgeson
Sen. David Durenberger worked with Wetterling to create the first major piece of federal sex offender legislation, which passed in 1994

These days, Wetterling is a 63-year-old grandmother with a warm smile, soft blue eyes, and a folksy manner. She's well known for her two campaigns for Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District, which she lost to Mark Kennedy in 2004 and Michele Bachmann two years later, as well as her personal story, which is deeply imprinted in the state's collective memory. Her eyes still gloss over with tears when she talks about Jacob.

She's less well known for having quietly emerged as perhaps the most unlikely voice questioning sex offender laws. Although she remains a prominent advocate for child safety — she is the board chair of the influential National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the director of the Minnesota Health Department's sexual violence prevention program — she has expressed gnawing doubts over the past several years about how we deal with sex offenders, a striking stance for someone who has been personally affected in such a devastating way.

"We have an intolerance for sexual violence, which I agree with," she said recently over coffee downtown. "People want a singular solution, and the solution that's been sold over the years is lock 'em up and throw away the key. But we've cast such a broad net that we're catching a lot of juveniles who did something stupid or different types of offenders who just screwed up. Should they never be given a chance to turn their lives around?"

She paused.

"They are very different than the man who took Jacob."


Long before Wetterling became a public figure, she was a stay-at-home mother in the small town of St. Joseph. On the evening of October 22, 1989, she and her husband, Jerry, went to a party celebrating a local arts festival that she chaired. Their 11-year-old son Jacob stayed at home with his best friend, Aaron Larson, along with their other son Trevor, 10, and their eight-year-old daughter, Carmen. Trevor called over to the arts festival party and asked permission for the three boys to go to a local convenience store, where they could rent a movie and buy soda. They got a neighbor girl to come babysit Carmen and took off on bikes.

The boys were riding home in the dark when a masked man emerged from a gravel driveway along a country road. Pointing a gun, he told the boys to lie down in a ditch, demanded to know their ages, then ordered first Aaron and then Trevor to run into the nearby woods or risk being shot. By the time the two boys caught up to each other and dared to peek back, Jacob and the gunman were gone.

For the Wetterling family, the weeks and months that followed were an agonizing blur. Dozens of county, state, and federal investigators flocked to St. Joseph in the effort to find Jacob. Throngs of firefighters and student volunteers combed the surrounding woods and cornfields.

It soon hit the national news: Peter Jennings on ABC reported, "the effect on Jacob's family has been obvious, but his kidnapping has also torn the tightly knit social fabric of the entire town." Pictures of Jacob, a handsome, tawny-haired boy, were plastered at truck stops, tollbooths, and convenience stores across the Midwest. Billboards and bumper stickers pleaded for information. Thousands of fruitless tips poured in.

Investigators regretfully shared that the most common motive in this kind of abductions was sexual, and they felt all but certain that this was the case with Jacob.

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37 comments
rpsabq
rpsabq

we simply must begin to truly understand that it is "We the People" not "We the politicians."  When did the people lose control?  Our country currently is being run by mis-guided, ineffective, unqualified ego maniacs who do NOT have have the "People's" best interest at heart and as their priority.  If they did, this sex offender registry/branding would have been pulled way back long ago.  But when your first priority is self-glorification and ones own rise to power, all kinds of horrible things begin to happen.  This issue will NOT come to a head and change until enough of the "wrong" people and the "wrong" families are put on that list.  (btw ever wonder why Larry Craig or Mark Foley are not on the List??)   But that's OK because at the rate we are going it really is all a matter of time.

Any politician with any sense and with real moral fortitude would grab at this issue, stand firm, get the research, have Patty speak for him (among hundreds of other educated well regarded national figures) and win the election of his lifetime.  I challenge any politician to, for ONCE, use this issue for the improvement of society and for the better protection of children instead of basterdizing this issue for ones own personal, selfish political gain.  THAT is the true HORROR of all of this.

archiedemps
archiedemps

While laws to protect and to punish are a required part of any civilized society. The laws themselves must be civilized in a civilized society.. not vengeful. Sex offender laws are misguided, a placebo at best.. and down right deceitful and dangerous...

Thousands of children are beat, tortured, bullied, commit suicide, and are victims of sexual violence by vigilantism because they have parents who were the victims of the offender registry...yet NO ONE cares about them... WHY PRAY TELL IS THAT?? 

Is this a country where we only have rights for certain "select" people, and if you are not "privileged" you receive a different set of rights? If your childrens last name is Walsh then no matter how terrible a parent you are people will care about your children but if you are forced on the registries then your children are fair game for violence?....WAKE UP AMERICA!!

thoughtasweak
thoughtasweak

As a parent of a child that was abused, I understand people's reactions to those who hurt kids, yet I have also seen my child's abuser regrets for the hurt he caused. If there were prevention options available to him PRIOR to offense, my child would have been saved. However, we only offer treatment after abuse has occurred, which is completely opposite of the manta 'If it saves just one child'! Yet, how many 'true' victims of abuse (not peeing in public, a teen taking a nude selfie, consentual sex between teens, etc) are we failing because we refuse to look at Prevention instead of only looking at punishment.

We are the 5th largest country, yet we have the highest % of the population in our prison systems. What we are doing isn't working! We have to look at prevention methods.

oncefallendotcom
oncefallendotcom

I see "val03," aka Valerie Valigator Parkhurst from Davie, FL has decided to drudge up a year old article and use it as a venue to start a flame war. This will never detract from the fact that Patty Wetterling realizes she was bamboozled by a victim industry that used her to promote a bad law. The registry was never about "public awareness" or "prevention," but to give vigilante THUGS like val03 something to do. Like back in 2007 when Valerie Parkhurst was arrested for pulling an unregistered gun on a sex offender she was stalking. I find it rather ironic that Parkhurst used an unregistered gun on a registered citizen. I guess she only believes in a registry that dos not involve her. It wasn't her first time in trouble with the law for assault:

http://absolutezerounites.blogspot.com/2012/08/valerie-valigator-parkhurst-in-nut-shell.html

val03
val03

The more we learn about this issue the uglier it gets. More studies have gone on to dissect offenders and determine who they are and how they escalate. While the overwhelming concern for Mrs. Wetterling seems to be "juvenile" offenders the truth is these "juveniles" are committing some very heinous crimes on children even much younger than themselves. It also seems an offenders "family" dynamics are crucial to recovery and that isnt looking promising to date either.  Prevention? A very lofty word. Prevention is the ability to keep those who sexually feed off the vulnerable from "infecting" a new generation of those who may be pre-disposed to commit these crimes. "Containment" may be the only fix. We cant keep using a virgin generation for sexual exploitation and not be prepared for the consequences. I havent heard a "defense argument" yet that doesnt include the plea for leniency due to the fact the perpetrator "was also sexually abused"..

HowtoLive
HowtoLive

Wow you are an amazing individual,  because you have suffered at the hands of a predator and can make distinctions.   The word 'sex offender' has morphed into 'Sexual Predator' and I believe law enforcement understands the difference.   Moreover, so can most corrections officers.   Again Patty.  thank you.

ctzjd
ctzjd

I can not even imagine the depth of the pain that Patty Wetterling has experienced, not would I ever want to. As a mother of two daughters,I can relate to the anxiety that a parent can feel when worried about protecting their children. Sadly, I can also relate the devastating effects of being on the sex offender registry. I am the wife of a sex offender. I have been with my husband for 18 years now, of which the last two and a half, he has been on the registry. We have a 5-year old and  3-year old. My husband is not a dangerous person. He used to have a drinking problem,and he was accused of touching his daughter form a a previous relationship while he was drunk. We don't know exactly what happened since he has no memory of it, but I do know that my husband would never have done anything like this in his right mind. Since then, he has quit drinking altogether. However, he will never be allowed to be around children again. The judge did give him permission to be around our children, but they can't ever have any friends over.If I invite other children to their birthday parties,then their father can not be there. We are not really allowed to do anything together as a family because he is not allowed to go anywhere for children. He has a hard time keeping a job,which has hurt the whole family.Our children are too young to understand right now, but I know that one day I will have to explain it to them. I know that my husband is no saint, but to brand him for life seems a bit harsh, especially when he has an innocent family who is having to endure the shame and punishment day in and day out as well. It is so nice to know that there is someone out there that does not look at all of us monsters and scum of the earth. God bless you, Patty Wetterling, and may he continue to comfort you.

Sexsomnia
Sexsomnia

God Bless Ms. Wetterling. She has been through a horrible and traumatic life event and she can still have an open mind. Closed minded people make wide general statements like @ Angel L Bernard Cater did.

My boyfriend and his daughter fell asleep on his bed and he believes he molested her without realizing what he was doing. He has since found out he has Sexsomnia. How do you explain unconscious intention? You don't to someone who sees only black and white.

Society needs to wake up!

trekatch
trekatch

My son is 20, last summer, while he was still 19, he joined a dating service.  He "met" a girl through the service and after talking back and forth she invited him to her home and they had sex.  Her profile listed her as 18, she showed him pictures of her truck and talked about it being her senior year and her SAT scores and what colleges she was applying to.  After a few weeks, she told him she was really 16 but she didn't like boys her age and that's why she lied.  He immediately told her he couldn't see her anymore.  Shortly after that her mother contacted my son to tell him her daughter was really 14 and she begged him not to tell anyone, because "she has done this before and I don't want anyone to know".  My son was horrified and told the mother he had already broken it off.  ALL of this is confirmed by their texts and messages back and forth.  Unfortunately, her dad found out, she turned up with an STD and he called the cops.  (My son had just come back from MEPS to go into marines, he did NOT have an STD-and yes he was tested again by the cops).  NONE OF THIS IS ADMISSIBLE IN COURT.  Statutory rape laws GIVE NO CONSIDERATION to whether or not the girl lied, even though her dating profile clearly shows (still to this day) that she has listed herself as 18.  My son is facing 20 years in jail and registering as a sex offender, possibly for LIFE.  He is on a gps monitor which costs us over $400 per month and if we had not successfully argued about how restrictive the conditions were, he would literally be under house arrest and not allowed to work because the bond condition state he cannot go "within 200 yards of any school, daycare, park or place 'where children gather'" which includes a McDonald's; which means he could not drive down any highway or even leave our street....his probation office was in the middle of a NO zone.  The girl faces NOTHING, has ZERO consequences and won't even have to testify in court.  Is this really what the registry was intended for, to keep teenagers from being able to be a part of their own children's lives as they get older, to keep them from getting and keeping decent jobs, to have their homes, car and families targeted from ignorance and fear.  NOT ALL "SEXUAL OFFENDERS" ARE THE SAME.  Wake up and see that the registry, as it stands, because less effectual each year as nearly 30 to 40 thousand people EACH AND EVERY YEAR get added and very few are coming off.  Do you really care if your neighbor got drunk, and peed on a tree on the side of the road?  Does that help protect your child? I just urge you to consider this, I WANT REAL PREDATORS identified, but its getting harder and harder to recognize the dangerous ones from the kids, teenagers and drunken idiots.


todsnewlife
todsnewlife

Giving a well-intentioned idea to politicians is like throwing a kitten to a pack of hungry dogs. This article should be required reading for ANY legislator before they are allowed to propose any kind of sex offender law!   

Sammy L Cater
Sammy L Cater

she is wrong -- they ALL ARE SCUM AND SHOULD DIE

vahall2012
vahall2012

This is an incredibly well written article, not only because my opinion on former offender management is in line with Ms Wetterling's, but because like the best literary works, the article creates a multidimensional picture of its subject.  The damage wrought by ongoing registration and other forms of post-release punishment for ex offenders is tremendous, including legislation like today's SKILLS act, which explicitly precludes those most stigmatized from rebuilding their lives.  It is simplistic to slap labels on people and focus hate and disgust at them.   It takes true courage and depth of character to look at an often unpleasant topic and plumb it for real solutions.  I commend both Ms.Wetterling for her honesty and strength of character, and Jennifer Bleyer, for so ably using the written word to convey those admirable traits.

shellystow
shellystow

Jennifer Bleyer has written a beautiful and amazing account of a beautiful and amazing woman, Patty Wetterling. I agree with Oncefallen. Those of us who who work and advocate for laws based on facts and research are subject to the harshest of criticisms and accusations. In Patty Wetterling and in Jennifer as well are found two brave and public voices who are doing much to shine the light of truth into the darkness of myth and lies that permeate almost any discussion about this subject. Thank you both.

MyMark14
MyMark14

My deepest respect goes to Patty Wetterling for her courage to speak up for what is right, not what is popular. This is indeed a complex issue, but numerous statistics and studies are proving that the registry is not working to prevent sexual crimes from occuring.  A large percentage of these crimes are comitted by first time offenders, not those on the registry.  Our family has been impacted by these punitve laws which have changed our lives forever.  Every citizen of our country needs to be made aware of this issue and we all need to work together to address the real issues behind the sexual violence.

oncefallendotcom
oncefallendotcom

John Walsh and Mark Klaas or two mouthpieces of a growing victim industry where there is millions to be made from exploiting the anger and fear of crime victims. The goal with individuals like Walsh and Klaas is not to promote healing, but to perpetuate a constant state of anger and hatred. The NCMEC gets a huge cut of any money authorized to fund the Adam Walsh Act. There is simply no money in a "cure". 

Patty Wetterling was used by the system, and now that she questions the system, the system wants to silence her. Activists like myself are rarely given the chance to openly question these laws. While it may be easy to attack someone like me, you cannot claim that Wetterling opposes these laws because she is a sex offender or has "urges".

Megan's Law, residency restrictions, and other punitive laws need to be repealed in favor of evidence-based legislation that emphasize prevention education and sexual accountability. I have been saying this for years, but no one wants to listen to me. Since Patty Wetterling and I seem to be on the same page, my only hope is that people will listen to her. 

bethann.bloom
bethann.bloom

Minnesota is truly fortunate to have a woman as wise as Patty Wetterling working on such a complex issue.

Michele Andrews
Michele Andrews

I have much respect for this woman. I am a psychologist whom works with those who have sexually offended. I have also worked in the MN correctional system. I agree with much of what Ms. Wetterling says here.

archiedemps
archiedemps

As a side note think about this....  Almost a million men,women, and children (some as young as 5) on these registries..... Many for petty things so small as to not even be a crime in half of the states or 3/4ths of the more civilized countries in the world..


All of these people forced from homes, forced from jobs, forced from family, or forced to watch their family abused because of these registries affects...


 1 million starving, cold, homeless, hopeless, bitter, people turned into human animals by society and turned out into society...  Does that really make you feel safe??

 Now while these registry's may be fun for the little angry bitter people who want an excuse to justify their terrible thoughts and the police state that always is seeking to control the population for those of you who really care about your safety and the safety of your family does this really sound like a good idea? Make a million people desperate, remove all hope from them, and then turn them out into society.....?


What a great idea.... That is what the registries does..

dolores_owen
dolores_owen

@HowtoLive   If law enforcement understands the difference, then how come they insist on keeping people who peed in public on a registry?  Why do they insist on keeping "romeo & juliet" offenders on a registry?  And the many more who are not predators?  Hmmm?

TRAGEDY
TRAGEDY

@trekatch This is just so pathetic. A law meant to do something has gotten totally out of CONTROL!!!!!!!! Call your senators, attorney general, anyone who will listen. This is bull crap and further the girl SHOULD be charged with LYING on a website about her age and for the trouble she has caused.

drmom5
drmom5

@trekatch That is so awful!  The fear industry which promotes these stupid laws benefits financially by ruining your son's life.  I'm very sorry;  I count my blessings that no girl has lied to my five sons the way that girl did to yours.  Asking them for ID isn't even enough protection.

hammond4h
hammond4h

@todsnewlife  I totally agree with you that politicians need to read this article before passing any legislation. This article is well written, There are too many on the registry that need a second chance.  In some cases, the girl lied, the father got mad, the person urinated in public, the boy did a practical joke and mooned in public. These individuals should not be punished for LIFE!

rpsabq1
rpsabq1

so someone who peas on tree should die?  i assume that what is popping in your mind is the monster who seeks out children and rapes them.  The POINT here is that there are people being put on the registry who did NOT commit anything even close to that.  Also our point here is why are the true monsters being let out of prison.  Think about it for more than 5 seconds and you will see this is wrong.  It is people like you that the social panic continues and in return we now have laws that put children at RISK.  Don't you have a problem with that?

drmom5
drmom5

@Angel L Bernard Cater Get some therapy for whatever warped you.

An_RSO
An_RSO

fence1ufo@yahoo.com 

Why do you think this? What do you really know about the majority of the people on the registry?


Do you have a personal experience that you are angry about?

hammond4h
hammond4h

@Angel L Bernard Cater  Angel, you need to research the registry information. I hope that your loved one is not falsely accused... If we abide by your logic... your falsely accused loved one would DIE!!!


ontheraod81
ontheraod81

@Angel L Bernard Cater 

Easy to say until your 12 or 13 year old son or daughter is convicted and forced to register as a Sex Offender for the rest of their lives, for fondling another minor.

val03
val03

With all due respect (sort of) I dont put much stock in You "voodoo" doctors who watch these guys head spin for 18 months and let your ego dictate they are "healed". 

HowtoLive
HowtoLive

@dolores_owen @HowtoLive First your post confuses me but then I have from PTSD from the service.   But I am saying that law enforcement enforces,  they do not legislate.

trekatch
trekatch

@TRAGEDY @trekatch  I live in Texas; no one listens.  I'm a member of Texas Voices and we fought tons of new laws in the Legislature just this year.  Its a struggle because politicians don't want to be labeled as friendly to "sex offenders" and they are all painted with the same brush.  My son plead to 10 years deferred 180 days in jail, 120 hours of community service $2000 fine and sex offender and alcohol/drug treatment (even though no drugs or alcohol were involved.  The sex offender treatment requires a set of texts that costs $600 and that doesn't include the weekly "therapy" costs.  Too many people are making too much money off sex offenders, including the state!

todsnewlife
todsnewlife

@hammond4h I'll add to your list of people on the list.

- Kids as young as ten years old.

- People who never hurt anybody.

- People who never even touched anybody.

- Law abiding citizens

- And people who honestly, deeply regret what they did, will never do it again (most people on the list do not commit another sex crime) and that are fully capable of living healthy, productive lives as positive contributors to the community if they could just get off of this shame list. 

HowtoLive
HowtoLive

@trekatch @TRAGEDY You nailed it because along with it you have to pay for lie detector tests and GPS if you have to have that.   In some states you need logs for everywhere you go.

The biggest hope is sequestion could make them cut back on the laws especially those who are not predatory.   Furthermore if one of these legislators or judges had to deal with all of this,  it would change.

An_RSO
An_RSO

fence1ufo@yahoo.com 

I fit into the last category you listed. I molested my 6 year old niece when I was 35 years old. I did not mean any harm. I was just being immaturely friendly. I was teaching her to be naughty. It was really wrong, and after the decade I spent in prison while watching the pain and shame of my family and friends, and the destruction of my marriage, I can tell you that I never want to cause that sort of uproar again. I was not thinking about just how offensive a little rubbing was. It was truing a mistake in thinking. I will never do that again. But, as much has been said on this site about the collateral consequences of the registry, I am virtually homeless, unemployable, and cannot convince a court to allow me to visit my daughter - even with supervision. Now the legislators want to pile on more restrictions to where we can live, where we can work, and even the liberty to add comments like this on the internet. At what point does the federal government just create one big residency restriction across the entire United States and just force us into the ocean. What is happening is not public safty. Its a feeding frenzy.

 
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