AP Exclusive: Few options for female sex offender

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Posted: Sep 07, 2014 1:16 PM
AP Exclusive: Few options for female sex offender

ST. PETER, Minn. (AP) — The sexual abuse started early for Rhonda Bailey, her father constantly visiting her bedroom when she was as young as 5. She gave birth to her first child at age 14, unsure whether the father was her dad or another relative, court documents say.

As an adult, Bailey became the abuser and raped two pre-teen boys. That crime and her sexual attraction to kids got her committed more than 20 years ago. Since 2008, she's been the only woman in Minnesota's sex offender treatment program. The state is now struggling to find another location for Bailey, who experts acknowledge is at high risk for future sexual misconduct.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow for sexually dangerous people to be committed civilly. An Associated Press survey of those programs found that Bailey is one of only nine committed female sex offenders, and the only one living in an all-male unit, which experts called shocking.

Deborah McCulloch, one of four court-appointed experts evaluating Minnesota's program, testified in July about Bailey's housing and treatment: "I believe rather than making her better, her issues have been prolonged."

Until recently, Bailey's treatment included group sessions with men, during which they described their assaults on others. "I had flashbacks," she said in an exclusive interview with the AP. "When the day was over with, when it was time to go to bed, I would have a flashback — seeing when my dad was sexually abusing me."

The Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which houses nearly 700 of the state's most dangerous sex offenders, is facing a legal challenge. Residents claim it's unconstitutional because it effectively amounts to a life sentence with inadequate treatment. Bailey's attorneys say she's an example of a resident who doesn't belong there.

Experts say Bailey has a deviant arousal to children and violence — a reaction to childhood trauma. They also say she needs specialized treatment for her offenses and psychological issues.

Jannine Hebert, executive clinical director of MSOP, said in an affidavit that officials have tailored treatment to Bailey. But Bailey told the AP, "I'd rather be around women instead of the guys."

The 49-year-old's life story is laid out in court documents and a massive treatment file. She was born in Iowa into what court documents described as a "profoundly abusive and chaotic" family. Her father hit her with a belt, a board with nails, and his fists, and sexually abused her "constantly," she says.

She moved to Minnesota when she was 25. In 1990, she sexually assaulted two boys, ages 9 and 10.

"I planned it for several months," she said. "I gave them money. I bought them things. I would cook for the kids. And then I would be so nice-nice to get real close to them before I offended them. ... I thought it was all right because of what happened to me."

She received nearly two years in prison. While on conditional release, she stopped herself from assaulting an infant, and soon after, she returned to prison for violating probation. In 1993, the state committed her to the Minnesota Security Hospital as a psychopathic personality. At the time, she spoke "daily of her desire to have sex with children and her inability to control her urges," court documents show.

She sexually assaulted another female patient, and eventually was placed in a special-needs services program with men because of her low IQ and sex offenses. Bailey and other group members were brought into MSOP in 2008 to improve their treatment and reduce risks to others.

Bailey has been with many of the same men for years and calls some of them her friends. She said she has never been assaulted or threatened, though she has grabbed others. She has her own room, which is locked, and a constant escort. In recent years, Bailey progressed enough to go on outings, but she had urges to "reach for the kids" and asked for the outings to be stopped.

Despite the risk, McCulloch said Bailey could live in a less-restrictive supervised setting and a program could be created for her.

In four other states, committed female sex offenders are housed in separate facilities from men, the AP found. Nebraska and Washington each have a woman housed in the same facility as men, but in separate, secure units; the woman in Washington attends treatment with men.

Dan Gustafson, Bailey's attorney, said the state is obligated to treat Bailey, and her current treatment is so inadequate that it violates her rights. But the state says there's nowhere else for her to go: A federal judge recently denied a request to move her, noting that officials are discussing other options.

For now, Bailey said she has stopped attending group sessions and does individual work, including art therapy. She showed an AP reporter a crayon drawing in which two hearts, one broken, were surrounded by bricks. She also drew a door with five locks — so no one can get in. She described it as her "safe place."

Bailey said she'd like to go to a halfway house or group home. When asked if she thinks she's a danger to kids, she quickly replied, "No."

"Since I've been locked up in treatment, I know now if I did do it, it would be against the law, against the rules," she said.

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