by Gema Duarte
illustration by Kenneth Todd Ruiz
Driving aimlessly through his West Hollywood neighborhood, a lonely 22-year-old notices an attractive teen-age boy on the sidewalk thumbing for a ride.
Pulling his car to the curb, the man eyes the boy thoughtfully. Leaning over, he rolls down the window and offers him a ride. The boy accepts.
Companionship is often a quick cure for Jake Goldenflame’s constant battle with depression. The man starts feeling better. He and his passenger share a laugh during the ride. Hearing the boy’s laughter and seeing his young, blooming body is too much for the man.
Goldenflame knows how to cure his blues. “A force,” he says, takes over him. He cannot explain this “force,” but he likes it and must feed it. He offers the boy money in return for sex. Desperate for money, the boy agrees. They drive to the Hollywood Hills and have an illicit sexual encounter. The driver knows he is stealing the boy’s innocence, but he needs to feed his own needs.
The man feels euphoric. There is no more pain, no more depression.
This was more than 40 years ago when Goldenflame first experienced offering money in return for sex. Now, he avoids situations that may result in temptation.
The 66-year-old is one of 500,000 sex offenders in America required to register where he lives. California alone has 100,000 sex offenders.
La Verne, which is one mile wide by eight miles long, currently has 41 sex offenders who probably have had similar experiences as Goldenflame. He considers himself a “recovering sex offender,” who, after serving five years in prison on a child molestation conviction, moved away from West Hollywood to a place he could start new and recover from the urges that caused him to molest his 3-year-old daughter and many teen-age boys. “I am ashamed of who I was. I am ashamed to be a sex offender,” Goldenflame says. “We don’t decide to become sex offenders; it just happens. It happens so spontaneously; by itself almost.”
He explains the urges and his response to them as something that seems to take over from the outside, but adds that “it’s really something from the inside that you’re not in touch with, something that has been damaged.” Although a San Francisco resident, Goldenflame looks to help communities like La Verne understand the reasoning behind the actions of most sex offenders by disclosing his side of the story. His goal is to help the public protect themselves from repeated sex offenders.
Locally, San Dimas has 29 and Claremont 14 registered sex offenders. La Verne had 42 until its most dangerous registered sex offender, Kristian Erik Rosvold, left the state, according to La Verne police.
Rosvold, then 40-years-old and a twice-convicted child molester, moved into the La Verne home of his girlfriend’s mother in January 2002. On the 1300 block of Cork Circle Drive, the house is only 650 yards from Oak Mesa Elementary School. According to a legal motion from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, sex offenders must live at least 1,000 yards from schools, playgrounds, day care centers and other areas children gather.
In a town the size of La Verne with its number of schools, churches and parks, this is a near-impossible requirement.
Rosvold was convicted in 1988 of fondling two children, 8 and 9 years old, respectively, in Marin County. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison and placed on six years’ probation. In 2000, he pleaded guilty to fondling a 14-year-old’s breasts. He served four months of a six month conviction. In an interview with the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in March 2002, Rosvold confessed that he was doing everything in his power to prevent another incident. “I have no option except to stay in recovery,” he says. “It will be a life-long struggle.” His road to recovery faced obstacles. Concerned parents and other residents protested against his presence in the conservative community on a daily basis. Even when he sought spiritual comfort and support from the Church of the Brethren, the congregation rejected his membership.
Goldenflame, who has not re-offended in 12 years, advises recovering sex offenders to live in children-free communities or apartment buildings and away from family-oriented neighborhoods.
Keeping track of the location of convicted sex offenders, whose crimes can range from indecent exposure to child molestation to rape after they are released from prison is not an easy task. In recent years, California alone has lost track of more than 33,000 sex offenders, according to an investigation by the Associated Press published January 2003. In 1947, California established the nation’s first sex offender registry to help monitor the whereabouts of sex offenders. This registry was kept secret from the public. In the 57 years since, every state passed legislation requiring sex offenders to register with local authorities. States are prohibiting released sex offenders from living near or visiting schools, parks and other places children with children. After they have been released from prison, sex offenders have 10 working days to register with local authorities.
“We keep a pretty good tab on ours,” says Bill Witzka, community services supervisor at the La Verne Police Department. “They annually register and have five working days before or after their birthdays. I check my list weekly, and if a birthday is close, and they haven’t registered, our officers go out and find them. They are subject to arrest because it’s a violation of the penal code to not register.”
Within the last decade, the public has been abreast of the number of offenders in their locales with the help of the controversial Megan’s Law, which the state implemented in 1996. The law is named after 7-year-old Megan Kanka of New Jersey who was kidnapped, raped and killed on July 29, 1994, by a neighbor. With no warning to the community, a known sex offender, Jesse Timmendequas, had moved across the street from the Kankas. In the wake of the tragedy, the Kankas fought to have local communities warned about sex offenders moving into their neighborhoods.
Critics of the law say that the public registry punishes people who have already served their time, and not everyone on the list is dangerous or poses a risk. Registries, they say, also may push abusers and their families underground, where they are more likely to abuse again and are less likely to seek help.
La Verne resident Cal Stephens has mixed feelings about the issue. If it were up to the 63-year-old, sex offenders would all be dead. But he still believes in the American justice system. “A criminal like a sex offender, why are they even allowed to live? They should be killed, but that’s not the American way,” Stephens acknowledges. He believes that it is important to keep tabs on the offenders, but he adds that the offenders have already served their time.
“If they are released from prison, God, let them live!,” Stephens declares. “Why do they have to keep serving for the rest of their lives? We have to live with them, and they have to live somewhere. He served his time, leave the man alone.” Many law enforcement officials, lawmakers and child advocates disagree, arguing that it is vital to alert communities to the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders. Megan’s Law provides the public access to information regarding the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders in their communities. Currently, the registry allows the public limited information. Available information includes name, age, photo, sex, physical description, crimes, county and ZIP code. This information can be found in local police stations and on the Internet, displayed on a map which shows the general location of registered offenders who live in Los Angeles County as of Sept. 30. Offenders are classified as either “serious” or “high risk.” L.A. County maintains its database at gismap.co.la.ca.us/sols.
According to the classification system, “serious” sex offenders are those who have been convicted of at least one felony sex crime. Offenders earn a “high-risk”designation if their prior criminal acts indicate a greater threat of recidivism. “Parents should use Megan’s Law to see if there are any sex offenders in their communities. And they should keep their children away from ‘these people,’ ‘’ Goldenflame says. “Sex offenders have an illness and since it’s incurable, the public should be made aware of their surroundings.”
Goldenflame, who has talked to numerous sex offenders while volunteering, believes that an active sex offender is emotionally unstable, and harsh rejections from communities can create more danger to them-selves. “With a sex offender in your community, you can show a picture of the sex offender to your children and say, `Stay away from them.’”
During his volunteer sessions, Goldenflame tells his audience that a sex offender will always be a sex offender just like an alcoholic will always be an alcoholic. There is no cure, and a lifetime of recovery is important. “If you say you are recovered, you are putting your guard down and run the risk of re-offending,” he explains. “In order to avoid re-offending, you must adopt maintenance of a good mental condition to your lifestyle.” He attributes the behavior of an offender to poor mental health stemming from low self-esteem and depression. Rosvold and Goldenflame are stereotypical offenders according to recent research conducted nationwide by several organizations. Studies have shown that 95 percent of child molesters are male, 75 percent are white and half are older than 30 years old. Furthermore, 72 percent of California’s registered sex offenders, like Rosvold and Goldenflame, have been released from prison, while 16.1 percent are in jail. The state has deported about 1 percent while about one-tenth have left the state of their own will, according to recent statistics available from the California Attorney General’s office.
With the many sex offenders among us, Goldenflame says he feels that a registry system is necessary because, “It’s better to keep the devil you know than to take on one you don’t.”