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Program Holds Out Hope, Help For Predators

Tom is a sex offender so dangerous that alarms must be placed on his bedroom door or he’ll go prowling at night for a victim to rape or molest.

Duane’s room is bugged so his conversations about sexual fantasies can be monitored.

Trained aides are paid to keep Sue within eyesight at all times during the day.

Prepare yourself for a shocker: these hard-core menaces to society aren’t adults doing time within the state prison system.

Tom, Duane and Sue (not their real names) are three of about 60 Spokane-area boys and girls - ages 12 and under - who are diagnosed sex predators.

Such emotionally damaged kids are being treated through a renowned Lutheran Social Services program that is little-known to the public. It’s called SAY, which stands for “Sexually Aggressive/Reactive Youth.”

SAY is so respected and unique that a national television news magazine wanted to film a segment on it last year. Val Smith, Lutheran’s child welfare director, vetoed the offer as too intrusive for such fragile kids.

The children of SAY receive intense group and private counseling. Above all else, they are given a safe place to stay where there are firm rules and consequences for inappropriate behavior.

“They are not poor dears,” says Smith. “They have a choice and we’re teaching them to recognize that. The trick is to get to them before they become adolescents. It gets much harder to reach them after that.”

This is grueling, thankless work no matter what the age. Success, if it arrives at all, is measured in fractions.

“I can spend two years with a child and not know if I’ve made contact,” says Lawerence, 50, shaking his head. “If you’re going to do this, you have to decide you really don’t need a life of your own.”

The Spokane Valley resident and his wife were the first to open their home to SAY kids when the program began four years ago. They asked that their last name or address not be published.

For this they receive a measly $120 a month per child from the state. It’s a laughable amount that doesn’t begin to cover expenses or the damage many of these children often cause to a foster parent’s home.

Money obviously isn’t the motivation for these modern heroes.

Today there are 20 homes whose owners are willing to live and work with some of the most troubled kids imaginable.

“I don’t have a security system to ward off burglars, nobody would want to break in here,” Lawerence adds with a terse laugh and offers the following story:

“One boy who was staying here looked at me and calmly said, ‘You know, if I had a gun right now I’d blow you away and pee on you and walk away laughing.”’

Lawerence pauses.

“He was the cutest little 8-year-old guy. That’s a tough concept for an adult to accept, that a little kid can be a full-blown, anti-social who may kill somebody before he’s nine.”

The outrage is that these kids were not born this way. They were made.

They are the products of the real monsters - perverted adults (often family members and friends) who molested and abused these children until their spirits were ground into dust.

Smith says there are 4,000 abused kids in Washington social services system. More coming all the time. Not all the victims become budding rapists, but all are injured in some way.

“It’s real hard when I see little kids struggle with the damage,” says Terry Peterson, SAY’s clinical supervisor. “At the base of it is a tremendous amount of shame.”

It’s humbling to see how these people can care so much about such unlovable kids. It’s comforting to know they are there.

“I don’t know if the problem of child abuse can be fixed,” says Lawerence. “But I can’t quit. I have to believe that somewhere down the line, the numbers will decrease.

“I have to believe that in order to get up in the morning.”

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Doug Clark The Spokesman-Review

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