Secret shame: 'They're all nice guys'

Offenders seldom fit boogeyman stereotype

Published: Monday, March 17 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

Parole agents Kody Floyd, left, and Jerry Cook, right, check the home of convicted sex offender Harlan Hammond.

Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News

Second in a four-part series.

UTAH STATE PRISON — Larry Burt groomed his young victim to always do what adults told her to do.

And for 11 years, she did. When she questioned his sexual touching that progressed to intercourse, he bought her gifts or showed her special treatment.

Burt, 46, is thoughtful and emotional as he describes his history during an interview at the prison. He tries to explain his thinking at the time — tries to answer the "How could you?" queries as best he can.

"I know I tried to make her believe that it's OK, I'm not physically hurting you," he said in an interview at the Utah State Prison, where he has spent the past 6 1/2 years. "You don't take into consideration it was hurting her emotionally and mentally."

Burt learned about the psychological damage he'd done in the prison's Sex Offender Treatment Program, which includes group therapy.

On this day, eight inmates who allowed reporters to sit in on the session, provided their names were not used, gathered around their therapist in their cell block's computer room. They ranged in age from their 30s to their 60s. One was black, the rest Caucasian. They were from communities along the Wasatch Front, from Orem to Roy. One was a transplant from Las Vegas.

One of them opens the discussion with belabored complaints about new rules that limit access to the computers, making it hard to complete his treatment assignments. Therapist Harold Blakelock uses the issue to help the inmates identify factors they can and cannot change. The inmate persists. He has to do his treatment exercises by hand, he complains. He has to walk from two halls down to do his work. He can't print it out as easily.

"The issue seems to be immediate gratification," Blakelock confronts the man. "Do you have a problem with immediate gratification?

"You're not going to complete treatment unless you take responsibility, change your thinking," he says. "Don't blame. Don't be a victim."

Observing the group, it is clear what Susanne Mitchell, director of the Salt Lake County Children's Justice Center, says is true. A sex offender is the guy who mows the lawn, pays taxes and fixes flat tires.

"Obviously, it doesn't fit the perception of the boogeyman monster," Mitchell said.

Take Harlan Hammond. He is a well-mannered, articulate 29-year-old married man with a good job. He is direct and personable with his parole agents in a recent visit and answers their questions as they search his computer with special software for traces of porn. They find nothing inappropriate on his computer.

But Hammond was convicted of attempted rape of a child involving a 14-year-old girl he met over the Internet. He's been on parole for almost four years, completed sex offender treatment and is going to school full time. The man is scheduled to be on parole for 10 years but has raised no red flags with his supervisors. They may recommend he get off parole in five years instead.

"So far," said parole agent Jerry Cook, "he's doing pretty well."

In fact, there is no profile of a sex offender.

A Utah Department of Corrections study of 389 offenders found 92 percent were white. Their median age was 32. They had finished nearly 12 years of school and their median IQ was 103, slightly above societal norms. One-third were married, one-third divorced and about one-third never married. Drugs and alcohol factored into their crimes 13 percent and 20 percent of the time, respectively.

Offenders will say the incident just happened. But Blakelock says that isn't true. They lie to themselves. They minimize and rationalize their behavior as "nice abuse."

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