Sex abusers hear victim's story- News12 Westchester

By MELANIE PLENDA
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original Publication: November 1, 2007)

WHITE PLAINS - Though Curtis St. John of Somers never confronted the man who sexually abused him when he was 10, he confronted a roomful of Westchester's sex offenders last night and told them how the abuse he suffered affected him.

St. John's presentation was part of a Westchester County Probation Department program aimed at keeping sex offenders, both registered and nonregistered, out of their homes and away from trick-or-treating children on Halloween.

Of the 173 offenders on probation in the county, 169 attended the mandatory meeting, said Rocco Pozzi, commissioner for the departments of Correction and Probation.

For those who didn't, probation officers planned to go to their homes to check on their whereabouts last night, said Louis Conte, assistant commissioner of probation. Without a valid excuse for missing the program - such as a preapproved work schedule, a serious illness or a mandatory treatment meeting - the probationer could be cited with a probation violation. The consequences would be up to a judge, Conte said, but could include going back to jail.

Though this year marks the third in the program's history, it is the first time a victim of sexual abuse has addressed a group of offenders.

St. John said he wasn't sure what to expect when he agreed to do the talk.

"I was getting a little snippy last night, which means it was affecting me more than I was expecting it to," St. John said. "I've spoken with survivors and law enforcement before, but I've never addressed offenders."

Many of them didn't want to be there, as evidenced by those slumped in their seats, those who wouldn't look at St. John or those who fell asleep partway through the presentation.

But St. John told his story anyway and described math lessons he took in 1979 with a pillar of the community, a man he and his parents trusted and who then sexually abused him.

The tutor and family friend, Albert Fentress, that same year was accused of sexually assaulting, mutilating and cannibalizing an 18-year-old boy he lured to his apartment in the Poughkeepsie area. Fentress was found not guilty in that case by reason of insanity and was committed.

He told the men that when he read what happened to the boy and who was responsible, he was relieved that his ordeal was over and that he never spoke of it to anyone. But it wasn't over, he said.

He was angry and started drinking young to kill the memories, but they wouldn't die. What did die was his college career, his first marriage and, at one point, his relationship with his children from a second marriage. The whole time, he told the men, he never recognized that his anger and troubles in his life were directly related to the abuse he suffered.

It wasn't until about 2001 while in a family therapy session that he was ready to address the abuse.

It took six years, but now he works with abuse survivors and helps train law enforcement.

When he was finished, St. John said he would take questions. Judging by the blank looks and nodding heads, it looked like it might be a short session. But then the hands started going up. One by one, several men asked him questions: Was he uncomfortable when he had to go to the math lessons? Did he ever physically act out at anyone because of the abuse? Had he ever confronted his abuser?

One man simply raised his hand and said, "Thank you."