ANKENY, IA – It’s a question asked by many; can convicted sex offenders and other potentially violent criminals re-enter society and not be a danger to others?
There are many strong opinions about this topic, we’re looking into the process of how sexually violent offenders make their way back into society.
Dr. Anna Salter; a name you may or may not recognize. Just this past May, she took the witness stand for the state of Iowa in the Noah Crooks trial.
Crooks is currently in custody, convicted of second degree murder in the shooting death of his mother Gretchen.
That courtroom experience is when I first learned what this particular expert does for a living… performing evaluations on sex offenders to determine if they are likely to re-offend after release.
“I talk about having been sexually abused but when I talk about it, I say I was raped or I was sodomised or this happened to me or that happened to me, and I’m very specific.”
Now-a-days it’s a little easier for Larry Wohlgemuth to talk about what happened to him as a child… but it wasn’t always like that.
Larry says he was sexually abused from the age of 3 to 11. That was followed by 42 years of post traumatic stress disorder.
Larry believes he suppressed all of the memories from those 8 years of being raped and beaten, and for years his life was in a downward spiral.
“All I could see is my life wasn’t working right, things were going wrong, alcohol, drugs, the inability to sustain a successful career, and I wondered what was wrong with me,” says Larry.
It wasn’t until just 6 years ago when Larry discovered a therapy treatment that worked for him. The sessions involved lights and caused all of his suppressed memories to come rushing back.
He says the abuse continued until he was 11 years old, that’s when he remembers a particularly brutal attack. It was the attack Larry says finally got the attention of others and ended the abuse.
“My dad came over to pick me up and I was semi-conscious for the rest of the night I was semi-conscious.”
Larry tells us his abuser was never confronted and died when Larry was 17 years old.
However there are cases when sexually violent predators are caught and jailed, and when they’ve served their time it’s up to people like Dr. Anna Salter to help determine if they should re-enter society.
“A sex offender can be evaluated at the end of his prison sentence and if he’s found to have a diagnosis that is tied to future offending and if he’s more likely than not to re-offend, then he can be civilly committed,” says Dr. Salter.
She conducts evaluations all over the nation, performing 60 of those in Iowa alone.
The interview can take hours and covers everything from the offender’s background to how they respond to question about the crime they committed.
“What the law says is that they’re more likely than not to re offend, so you have to understand is someone with a 30 or 40% risk of re-offending doesn’t meet criteria for civil commitment, that’s still a substantial risk of re-offending but it will not pass muster in the courts,” says Dr. Salter.
Between calculating the results of the evaluation and certain factors that are tied to risk of re-offence, a diagnosis can be determined. If someone is more likely than not to re-offend they will be civilly committed, but if not they can be free to re-join society.
“I think the public really believes that the issue is, is this guy going to re-offend or not, no body can say that we don’t have the tools to say that,” she adds.
While Dr. Salter admits this system isn’t perfect, she says right now, it’s the best thing out there.
“I do believe that some of the highest risk offenders are off the streets for many years and many permanently because of this system.”
But as a survivor of sexual abuse, Larry believes there has got to be a better solution out there.
“To rely on their will power as the only thing between a child safety and a child being raped or sodomised, I don’t think that’s sufficient,” says Larry.
But he thinks before the laws can change… people’s attitudes need to change.
Larry thinks it’s important for people to know what’s really going on when someone is accused of sexually abusing a child as hard as it may be to hear.
“He wasn’t touched inappropriately; somebody ripped his clothes off and raped him. That’s a hard discussion to have but until we understand what’s really going on, we’re not going to move forward on this other issue of okay, what do we do with these people,” adds Larry.
Which is something even he is conflicted with despite what he went through; he doesn’t hold much rage against sex offenders. He says jail might not be the answer for all of them. But one thing is clear.
“We need to make sure they’re never around children again and we need to have a generation where we can stop that. I mean if we can just stop it for one generation, suddenly we’re going to have a while generation of kids who haven’t had this kind of experience and maybe it won’t carry forward.”
Larry has written a book about his story. He says he hopes that it can be a beacon of hope for anyone else going through sexual abuse.
He says he wants somebody to look at the book and say “if this guy did it after what he went through then maybe I can too.”
An Iowa family is trying to change legislation so previous offenders don’t even have the opportunity to re-offend.
Kathlyn Shepard’s parents are working to get a one-and-done law passed that does not give offenders the ability for parole.
Kathlyn was abducted and killed more than a month ago.
Police believe Michael Klunder, a registered sex offender who was released from prison early on parole, is responsible for her death.