Experts discuss their experiences in juvenile sex abuse cases like that of the Oregon State pitcher, what happens legally, and what research shows works best
Oregon State’s No. 1-ranked baseball team worked out Tuesday in Corvallis, preparing for its Thursday trip to Omaha, Nebraska, and a date with Cal State Fullerton in the College World Series — likely without pitcher Luke Heimlich.
The Beavers and Titans will open the double-elimination tournament at noon PT Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.
OSU dispatched of Vanderbilt in two games in last week’s Super Regional at Goss Stadium, despite issues involving Heimlich.
The junior left-hander from Puyallap, Washington, hasn’t played for the 54-4 Pac-12 champions since an OregonLive report last week revealed he had been convicted of sexual abuse of a minor girl as a 15-year-old in 2011.
The university issued a statement from Heimlich before Friday’s series opener against Vanderbilt. In it, Heimlich said he asked to be excused from playing “at this time.”
Will Heimlich be available to play with Oregon State’s team at the College World Series? Will he accompany the team to Omaha?
OSU coach Pat Casey said Monday night that he did not know the answer to those questions. But it seemed highly doubtful that Heimlich would accompany the team and be in uniform as his teammates gun for the national championship.
Casey expressed his feelings to the Portland Tribune about the Heimlich matter and his player.
“I feel horrible about the whole situation,” the OSU coach said. “It’s heartbreaking to me. I feel terrible for everybody involved, particularly the little girl. I would never not have sensitivity to any victims. I want to see people healed over this thing.”
Of Heimlich, a 3.3 student majoring in communications and political science, he said after Friday’s Super Regional win over Vanderbilt: “For every second he has been on this campus, on and off the field, he has been a first-class individual.”
After interviews by the Tribune with several experts in the field of juvenile sex abuse, here is a look at some of the issues relating to Heimlich’s case and others like it:
• What were Heimlich’s legal obligations in registering as a sex offender in the state of Oregon? Why was he cited in April for failure to update his status in Benton County within 10 days of his 21st birthday? What happened to the charge?
Oregon law requires an out-of-state resident with a juvenile sex offense to register with the state of Oregon when he moves into the state.
When Heimlich enrolled at Oregon State in January 2015 — he graduated early from high school in order to start college and be eligible to play as a freshman during the 2015 season — he complied with that at the Corvallis Police Department.
After that, he was required to notify police department officials if there were a change in status — that is, if he were to dis-enroll from school. There has been no change in status, so Heimlich was not required to notify them again.
In Oregon, a juvenile sex offender from out of state is not required to register again on his 21st birthday. Were Heimlich a resident of Oregon or convicted in Oregon, he would have had to. As a Washington resident attending college in Oregon, that part of the law did not apply to him. At least that was the way Heimlich’s Corvallis attorney, Stephen Ensor, saw it.
“That was my legal opinion, based on the statute concerning sex offender registration requirements,” Ensor says.
It reads in part: “When a person … resides in another state and is not otherwise required to report as a sex offender under this section … the person shall report, in person, to the Department of State Police, a city police department or a county sheriff’s office, in the county in which the person attends school or works, no later than 10 days after the first day of school attendance or the 14th day of employment in this state.”
There was no mention of any subsequent requirements.
When Corvallis police included Heimlich in a sweep of sex offenders who had not registered, they didn’t realize he wasn’t required to under Oregon law. Ensor, took that to the district attorney, who agreed to dismiss the case.
“My legal analysis might not have been shared by the DA,” Ensor says. “I tried to persuade him of that, but he didn’t need to get to that question. He agreed that Luke didn’t have notice, and it wasn’t fair to prosecute.”
• What are the chances that a juvenile sex offender will commit another sex crime?
Mark McKechnie is executive director of Youth, Rights and Justice, a nonprofit defense and advocacy firm in Portland.
“Most of our work is representing individual clients,” says McKechnie, who has 18 years training as a social worker and is court-appointed to represent juveniles and parents in juvenile court. “We’d have represented someone like Luke if charged in Oregon.
“Research shows the longer someone goes without engaging in these type of offenses, the less likely they are to do it in the future. After a couple of years pass and the person hasn’t committed the offense, (he) is very unlikely to do so.
“The recidivism rate for juveniles adjudicated of a sex offense is less than 3 percent. Multiple studies across multiple states, including Oregon, all landed in the 2.5 to 3 percent range in terms of re-offense rates — and those percentages are usually figured by arrests, even without conviction.”
Kevin McGovern is a psychologist who has been in private clinic practice for 42 years in Portland. He is regarded as one of the foremost experts in the Northwest in area of human sexuality, has evaluated sexual abuse victims regarding the damaging effects of their abuse and has worked with thousands of offenders.
“Most juveniles who are convicted go through a treatment program monitored by probation officers, and most of them do really well,” says McGovern, who runs “Founder of Alternatives to Sexual Abuse” and provides training programs on a variety of forensic topics. “The offense or offenses occur at an early age. They don’t have a long, chronic history. Someone arrested at 15 within a family situation — if the charge does not include rape or torture, or if the person does not have serious personality deficits — does extremely well in therapy. Recidivism is quite low.
“The offenders learn it is quite serious. They’re in front of a judge. They learn this could be kicked into adult court, that they could wind up in a penitentiary. The good news is, most of these people who are involved in this type of behavior do well in treatment, especially within family. They normally have support. There are guidelines to follow.”
• Can Heimlich’s juvenile sex offense be expunged from his record at some point?
Under Washington law, an offender who has turned 21 may file a motion to have the record sealed five years after conviction. That means, for all legal purposes, the person has never been charged with the crime.
Heimlich, who turned 21 on Feb. 3, was convicted on Aug. 27, 2012. His five-year point comes on Aug. 27 of this year.
• If a juvenile sex offender does not have the offense or offenses expunged from his record, what are the ramifications?
“Evidence is there is a very low rate of recidivism, especially in juvenile cases that are adjudicated and they complete successful treatment,” says a Portland circuit court judge, who asks to remain unidentified. “There is a body of evidence that when treated like criminals — required to register as a sex offender — it has no effect in terms of committing another sex offense, but it creates a risk. “When they have to answer the question, ‘Have you ever been convicted of a sex crime,’ and they have to answer, ‘Yes,’ it makes it more difficult to get housing. They’re more likely to wind up homeless, not accepted in school, in jobs and so on. It’s important for them to be held accountable and required to do treatment, but a very small percentage are dangerous. For the most part, a young person who creates a sex offense is in a low-risk category.”
McKechnie is of the same opinion as the judge on the subject.
“Studies on registration of juveniles show it does more damage than good,” he says. “When you’re registered, it curtails educational and vocational opportunities, and increases the probability you’ll create other crimes — burglary, theft, things like that.
“After you are asked, ‘Have you been convicted of a felony,’ and if you put down, ‘Yes, sex crime,’ forget about it. How do you rent an apartment? How do you get a job? Registration can have a negative effect for the rest of your life.”
Robert Stanulis has been a clinical psychologist in Portland for 40 years and is considered one of the foremost experts dealing with sex offenders. He often testifies about juvenile matters in court.
“A recent study out of South Carolina looked at registered vs. non-registered juveniles,” Stanulis says. “It shows the idea behind it is flawed. We need to round up suspects, but we find out 96 percent of the cases occur with somebody in-family. Registration is useless, because (sex abuse) rarely happens with someone (the offender) doesn’t know.
“The Department of Corrections did a five-year followup (on sex abusers); around four percent re-offended a sex offense. The unintended consequences are, they end up committing more other crimes than they would have they been non-registered.
“Look at the average apartment lease. If you’re a registered sex offender, they won’t rent to you. You’ll have trouble getting federal student loans as a felon. You’ll have a hard time finding a place to live, find it hard to go to school. As an 18- to 21-year-old young man, you become a sex offender rather than boy who committed a sex offense. We label people and they become what they did. That’s the crime he committed, not who he is. Registration causes more harm than it fixes.
“The real issue here ultimately is, do we want them to succeed or want them to fail? Registration is simply not necessary. It satisfies our need for revenge, under the idea that sex offenders never get well, which is not true. The vast majority do not re-offend. That’s not to say there are not serial pedophiles out there, but they’re the exception rather than the rule.”
McKechie is in line with Stanulis’ opinion on the matter.
“Requiring juveniles to register (as sex offenders) doesn’t keep the community safe,” he says. “The vast majority of offenses are committed by first-time offenders. So there is intense focus on people who have been caught — most of them not at risk — while diverting attention from people in the community who may be arrested, but haven’t been identified yet.”
McKechnie cites a study by Elizabeth Letourneau of Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University.
“A lot of the debate I’ve heard is about saying, ‘The focus should be on the victim,'” McKechnie says. “We represent both in court cases. We see both sides and don’t want to minimize the impact of what happens to victims.
“Dr. Letourneau’s research is a lot about sex abuse victimization. She’s come down clearly that we need to protect victims and make sure they get treatment and are able to recover, but she is also very clear that registration does not benefit offenders.”
• Do families sometimes agree to a guilty plea of a juvenile sex offense even if they believe the child is not guilty of that offense?
“Because these types of offenses are felonies, that gives prosecutors a lot of leverage in a plea negotiation,” McKechnie says. “There is research available on things like false confession. Sometimes people admit to things they didn’t do because they’re taking one bad consequence when the other choice is an even worse one.
“At the time someone is charged with this type of offense, the family is thinking a lot more about getting probation or treatment instead of incarceration or being locked up. What’s hard for families and youths to understand is the impact of registration (as a sex offender) is going to be much longer-lasting. We often find kids and their families don’t realize how serious these offenses are treated. The vast majority are treated as felonies.”
Says Stanulis: “Because of the awful potential outcome if you don’t admit (to guilt), people very often plead guilty to things they didn’t do. And particularly in this arena, where you’re told nobody will know about it and that will be the end of it. Families want to somehow reconcile the situation. They want to move forward. You get treatment for both the offender and victim. If there’s a favorable plea, they’re going to take it instead of the risk of long-term incarceration.”
• Should a juvenile who commits a sex offense be treated differently than an adult?
Heimlich was convicted of inappropriately touching the victim in a private area.
“(Juvenile sex abuse) is one of those offenses that is often due to immaturity, curiosity or lack of supervision,” McKechnie says. “Most children aren’t given specific direction of what is or what is not OK in terms of touching other children. They are often warned about adults — ‘if they touch you, it’s not OK.’ We focus rightly on adults touching children, but don’t always give children a clear guideline of what’s OK with kids.”
Stanulis answers the question in direct terms in regard to Heimlich’s situation.
“A 15-year-old brain is not fully developed,” he says. “You’re not an adult. I can treat you as an adult, but you’re not. You are in fact a child. We’re talking about people who are not adults.
“I’m a person who believes in rehabilitation. Who do I want Luke to be? Do I want him to be sex offender, or a person who, as an adolescent, made a serious mistake but did what he was supposed to do after that and rehabbed himself?”
Stanulis goes further in terms of Heimlich’s situation at Oregon State.
“If Luke has gone through all the proper channels toward rehabilition, why shouldn’t be allowed to (represent) the university?” he asks. “Why not? Why aren’t you allowed to be successful? Isn’t that in society’s best interest? When you say he’s a felon, then you have a license to have no empathy. He can’t go back and undo whatever happened. He can only move forward.”
• What are the lasting effects of a sexual abuse case for the victim?
“The really good news is, more kids today are reporting abuse when it happens,” McGovern says. “It’s not as delayed. We have more education, better programs in school. There are classes in sexual harassment. Treatment today for most sex offenders and victims is amazing. We have made such progress in the last 20 years, you can effectively treat both victims and offenders. Victims don’t have to be ruined for life.
“Sex abuse is not a good thing. But if you are able to find the person who was abused and get them in treatment, the probability of them being tarnished for life is significantly decreased — the same as an offender, especially a juvenile.”
• Are there varying degrees of sexual abuse, or should they all be considered in the same category?
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to lump a person who committed a sex offense crime as a juvenile with another story on the culture at the university where the perception is that athletes are given a pass in terms of sex offenses on campus,” the judge says. “An adult committing a sexual assault is in a very different category than juveniles who do. There is a lot of good research and evidence on the treatability of a juvenile sexual assault.”
• Should a juvenile sex offender be referred to as “a felon?”
“The system is not meant to be punitive,” the judge says. “It is designed to be in the best interest of the youth. Even using language that suggests criminality is wrong. In cases I hear, I’m careful to refer to a youth as a ‘defendant.'”
• Could publicity on the case have an effect on the victim?
“It could be potentially harmful,” the judge says. “Each case has to be treated on its own merits. (The victims) have to go through their own process and treatment.”
• Have administrators from Oregon State had any comment on the Heimlich case?
No. A Monday phone message requesting an interview with President Ed Ray was not answered.
• Was the decision not to play in last weekend’s Super Regional really that of Heimlich, as was announced to the public?
Heimlich recused himself from playing, saying in a statement he didn’t want to be a “distraction.” But the decision was made after strong suggestions by university officials that participation wouldn’t be in the best interest of the individual or school.
• Why have Heimlich and his family had no comment on the matter?
They have made the decision that is the way they want to handle it at this time.
• Has Heimlich committed any offenses or had any behavioral problems during his time at Oregon State?
According to Casey, no.
Heimlich came to OSU after winning Gatorade Player of the Year honor as a Puyallup High junior in 2014. The award recognizes “not only athletic excellence but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character, on and off the field.”
In high school, Heimlich maintained a 3.76 GPA, was a member of the debate team and volunteered locally on behalf of the YMCA as well as multiple community service initiatives in association with his church youth group.
After his sex abuse conviction, Heimlich entered a diversion program, received two years of probation and successfully completed two years of sex offender treatment.
“Luke has done everything the courts have asked of him,” Casey says. “Now he is again going through the consequences of what happened six years ago. I don’t know many people who have paid the price once, then have to do it again.”