NEWPORT CITY – Protesters picketed the Safe Choices Program in the parking lot overlooking the Gateway Center Wednesday evening. They were hoping to send a message to Dr. Susan Wehry, commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, that they are unhappy with the Safe Choices Program.
Wehry was the keynote speaker at a Family Caregiver Retreat at the Gateway Center.
Protester Tracy Gilman claims the program has been abusive to clients for nearly a decade. She said the court ordered her son, Bill Bennett, to join the program, after he was found incompetent to stand trial to a charge of lewd and luscious conduct in 2005.
“He’s been there for five years and they will never let him go,” Gilman said. “It’s pretty much a program for life. People don’t get out unless they get an attorney and spend money and even then it’s a battle all the way.”
The program, said Bill Bennett, makes clients discuss their deviant sexual thoughts and clients who don’t report their thoughts are called liars and coerced until they end up making something up.
“I don’t like it,” he said of what the program expects of him. “It actually makes me feel bad.”
Gilman says the program exposes clients to a weekly sex offender group that is vulgar and abusive. She claims program personnel accuse clients of being liars if they don’t report sexual fantasies.
The protest, said Gilman wasn’t held just for her son.
Gilman said her son first entered the program because she thought it was a service that would help him learn social skills.
Wehry, who spoke to this reporter at the Gateway Center, said the Safe Choices Program was developed to help people who had problematic sexual behavior. She said the program is based on a model by experts and includes some elements of group therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.
“It’s a good treatment that helped a number of people,” she said. Wehry couldn’t answer questions about what the program specifically ask clients to do because she isn’t a Safe Choices Therapist. “Generally, in group, it’s group therapy discussion, listening to others and responding to what others have to say.”
It helps, she said, because others may have faced the same issues.