Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Child Sex Offenders

No Ready Answers

Randy Kellner
Randy Kellner

Even without remorse, some offenders just want to be free, so they agree to treatment programs, offering researchers a population for learning what does and does not work. In 2002, in Milwaukee Magazine, journalist Pegi Taylor took on the issues by presenting the story of Randy Kellner, a man once sexually abused on a weekly basis by his stepfather. By the age of 14, Kellner had become a child abuser himself, and in 1989, he was arrested for molesting a 13-year-old. He received an eight-year prison sentence. As he came up for release, the state of Wisconsin petitioned the court to have Kellner civilly committed as a sexually violent person. In May 1994, Governor Tommy Thomson signed Chapter 980 into law for "Sexually Violent Persons Commitment." The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that this procedure was constitutional, permitting the indefinite commitment of sex offenders who'd served their sentence to a treatment facility.

Governor Tommy Thomson
Governor Tommy Thomson

The state had only to prove that the person suffered from a mental disorder that "predisposed him or her to engage in sexual violence" and that the person as a "substantial probability" of reoffending. Those who are civilly committed must have access to "worthwhile treatment" so that they can be returned to society after their risk factors have been reduced.

Most offenders, Taylor writes, have experienced some kind of severe abuse when they were children, often sexual. They've not only been the victims of violence but have also seen this sort of power over others modeled to them. Yet only about 30% of male victims go on to become child abusers. Thus, abuse alone does not cause the development of the tendency toward violence, but it does appear to predispose some people to it. When they do abuse, they often reenact what happened to them.

Kellner, for example, was put into a closet after he'd been raped (where he'd fantasize about violence against his abuser); he in turn placed some of his victims into trunks. Kellner did receive therapy as an adolescent, but he continued to abuse children. He'd been placed into program where he was constantly confronted, and that didn't work. He simply withdrew into a fantasy life that included abusing other boys. In other words, when disempowered, he sought his secret source of power internally. Once he was out, he committed the same crime that had sent him to prison in the first place. Then during his civil commitment, he also went through a treatment plan that was abandoned after two years when it failed to prove on its promise.  His case remains open, with no clarity about how well he might do on the outside.

For Kellner, similar to many offenders in his position, other options have been weighed: chemical castration, freedom with electronic monitoring for life, phone monitoring and a Department of Corrections escort for any trips he made, along with random visitations by officials. He might have to take polygraphs and remain in therapy, and he would not be allowed to own a computer. One more sex crime would get him a life sentence. In terms of community notification, the police might send out a press release or hold a community meeting; Kellner might also be taken door to door so residents will recognize him, and information about him would be placed on a public Web site.

The problem of sexual offenders is both serious and complicated: whole we don't yet have answers, many professionals are diligently working on the problem, with the hope that the future will provide both relief and safety for communities and effective support for the offenders.

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