Wetterling Interview

April 7, 2009

SexOffenderIssues : Interview with Patty Wetterling – June 27, 2008 – From the book “Sex Offender Laws: Failed Policies, New Directions”
(Her 11-yr old son, Jacob, was abducted in 1989 and has never been found. The Wetterling Foundation helped create The Jacob Wetterling Act).

Richard Wright: Let’s start where we are today and work backwards. Obviously you know we are operating under the Adam Walsh Act, which is the major rewrite of sex offender federal laws from a few years ago. What are your general thoughts about the Adam Walsh Act?

Patty Wetterling: “Well, I had great concerns about some of what they were trying to do when they proposed the bill. I kept raising questions about treating juveniles the same way we treat adults. It makes no sense at all, and that was one provision that I had concerns over. I was told not to worry about the juvenile provisions because that would get thrown out. I was told there was no way that would pass. Also, when we worked on the Jacob Wetterling Act, we were told that we couldn’t make it retroactive, and yet the Adam Walsh Act has done that. One of the other clear pieces that I had concerns over was the amount of money that we are spending on GPS monitoring.”

“This law applies to a very, very tiny percentage of our general population. There are many pieces to it that are very costly and don’t necessarily work. I worked with a family where the offender was on house arrest and he convinced his girlfriend to go over to his house. While he was on house arrest with a bracelet, he murdered her and took off. These laws don’t necessarily stop crimes from happening, and they cost a ton of money Those are two issues I have great concerns over. Additionally The AWA allocates zero dollars for prevention.”

Wetterling: “Let’s take these one at a time. But first of all, I don’t believe in registering juveniles. I don’t see any, not one redeeming quality in doing that. The goal is to interrupt the behaviors if they’ve done something wrong, get them some help so they can live a normal, healthy wonderful life. Registering juveniles takes away everything that would allow them a normal, healthy happy life. It takes away any stability and sense of support. Registering juveniles is ludicrous and wrong always.”

“Residency restrictions are also wrong and ludicrous and make no sense at all. We’re putting all of our energy on the stranger, the bad guy and the reality is it’s most sex offenses are committed by somebody that gains your trust, or is a friend or relative, and so none of these laws address the real, sacred thing that nobody wants to talk about.”

Wetterling: “I ask a lot of questions. I’ve always asked a lot of questions. I feel that, when Jacob was kidnapped, I was angry, as you can imagine. I’ve been angry; I know fear and I know anger, and I don’t like living my life like that. I believe that much of the legislation and much of the initiative in this country is to use fear and anger to keep people on guard. I honestly believe, and this is consistent, this is what I felt in 1989 and what I feel today, that there are more good people in the world than bad. We need to pull together and design a world that is safer and better. Just having this absolute anger and pointing our fingers at one or two people as the bad guys, we’re denying the realities of sexual offending. We’re denying it.”

“I’ve learned a lot. I didn’t know that most of the time sexual offenses are committed by someone that the child knows. I learned that by being investigated. Law enforcement always looks at the family, friends, and relatives. They always look very closely at the family. I understand that. It was painful, but I do understand that now. Knowing that, why are we always putting all this stuff under this “stranger danger” mind-set? That’s not the solution to this problem.”

“Registering and treating them as demons and animals, not even human, that doesn’t do anything. It destroys the person. It would destroy me internally and it would not help solve the problem. The problem is how do we treat our kids? If they are victims, we need to get them help right away so that they don’t continue the behavior. We’ve got to build a culture that values and protects its kids.”

Wright: You have had access to hundreds of legislators who’ve passed these laws. Some of these laws have been fairly thoughtful and some have been fairly reactive. Having dealt with so many legislators, how would you characterize their understanding of the problem?

Wetterling: “Overall I would say they have very little understanding of the problem. That’s why I ran for Congress. I don’t think they want to. Nobody wants to look at the problem. You don’t want your child to be a victim. I have said this a lot. In Minnesota, everybody wants to find Jacob and everybody wants to find the man who took him. We’ve been overwhelmed with just amazing, amazing support, but at the same time nobody wants to find the man who took Jacob… in their family. They don’t want to find him in their church, in their school community, in their neighborhood. These people are not monsters. They’re living and functioning amongst us, and we’ve got to figure out a way for them to live amongst us and not harm another. There are many things that need to be looked at, including the effect of pornography. We have a “pornified” culture. It affects the way men view women and the way men view girls. The amount of violence with pornography has greatly grown. We’re nurturing that, we are putting that in beer ads and that’s everywhere. We are so used to it that we aren’t even shocked anymore, and that’s sad to me.”

Wetterling: “Well, first of all, I would venture to guess that maybe I’m different on this one, too, but when Jacob was abducted, I didn’t want a law. It upset me. We had state legislators come to us right at the beginning and say, we want to do something, we’re going to pass a law. I thought, why are you talking about laws? I’m looking for Jacob. I didn’t want a law named after Jacob, I wanted my son.”

“I didn’t have the time or energy to put any thought into that. But over time I began looking, and I asked law enforcement, what would have helped you? They said it would have helped to know who was in the area. From a law enforcement perspective, that makes sense. It would have helped to have a central repository of information because we have a very fluid society. Those I think are two valid law enforcement tools, but when they expanded it to community notification, I wasn’t even sure if I liked that. It made me very nervous about people not handling that information well.”

“On an intellectual level, when these guys are released from prison, we want them to succeed. That’s the goal. Then you have no more victims. All of these laws they’ve been passing make sure that they’re not going to succeed. They don’t have a place to live; they can’t get work. Everybody knows of their horrible crime and they’ve been vilified. There is too much of a knee-jerk reaction to these horrible crimes.”

“I’m not soft on these guys, but I just know that they’re not all the same. They’re not all the same and we can’t treat them as such. There was one time when a man was arrested in St. Paul. My mother called, we were all up at the lake, and she said, “There’s a break in your case.” I said, “I don’t think so. I’ve talked to the sheriff’s department. They know where we are and they haven’t called.” She said, “Well they’ve been promoting it all day on TV. There’s a break in your case. Watch the news tonight.” So we did.”

Wright: From your experience, what distinguishes the news media that do a responsible, sensitive, thorough job from the sensational?

Wetterling: “The wording. They tend to right away call someone a rapist, or a child molester. The wording that they use is very inflammatory. I’m not thinking of good examples right now, but I know you’ll know them when you hear them. They often suggest it being a stranger. They only report the stranger cases. The sad reality is, they so overemphasize the stranger cases, it suggests that those are the only thing that’s happening. There are stations that do a better job. Some really address sexual violence by talking to victims. They know that most cases aren’t reported to police and that most of the time it’s not a stranger.”

“The ones that do, the strangers that do make those high-profile cases are often very bad. I think we have to work out some of the kinks of civil commitment, because there’s got to be a way for some of these people to not get out. We’ve had cases where the offender told people they were going to reoffend. They told them who they were going to go after and how they were going to do it. Now these people are clearly not safe. I don’t believe they should be out. So we have to have a place for discerning the differences between these people. They are still human beings.”

Wetterling: “I think that one thing that is so sorely missing in all of this, with all of our anger and all of our tough laws, there is no safe place for these guys. There are a lot of people who succeed. They do these terrible offenses and they go to jail and do their time. Then they get out and never reoffend. There is no place to share their stories, because you can’t say, well, yeah I was a sex offender once and then I got some help, and I got off alcohol and drugs and I’m cured. As a culture, we don’t tolerate that. We have not built into the system any means for success, and I think that’s really sad. If I were the parent, the second worst thing to having your child kidnapped, would be to be the parent of someone who did this. I just can’t imagine if you are the parent of a juvenile who did something wrong and you get them some help. You want them to lead a healthy, full life, and we’ve not built that into the equation at all.”

Great thanks to SexOffenderIssues for all the hard work they did in transposing this interview
Copyright © 2009, Sex Offender Issues, All Rights Reserved

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