Hard Case

Marie Clark's group-therapy sessions are a sex offender's worst nightmare. Her down-and-dirty approach gives some of her colleagues the willies too.

Responds Clark: "I don't know about yelling at the top of my lungs. I do raise my voice, I will not lie to you about that. But in this particular incident there was no reason to." As for the vomiting, she says, "I've never told anybody that. The guy was in total denial; he said he was not a sex offender like the others, and so I went around the room saying, 'Yes you are, and you are not the only one.'"

As far as Clark is concerned, denial is a boulder that must be shoved out of the way, and everything else is a pebble. For Jones, whom Clark says she transferred to another group after he started tape-recording her sessions, the treatment was degrading. "You can confront people because you care about them or because you hate them," he says. "Marie Clark stimulated a spirit of hatred."

Clark knows offenders lie -- "I don't care if they are twelve years old," she'll tell you. "We don't believe 'I've only done it one time.' We get a mix in the group of how many times you have been caught." That's why she goes at them so hard. "Once you get people to take responsibility for their own behaviors, then you can work on their self-esteem, because they can say, 'Yes, I did this.' Until then, I'm saying, 'What did you do?' and I'm gonna say it every week until they get off of it."

Len Powers, a former clinical director at Masters and Johnson, says, “When someone discloses something that is painful or personal, we deal with it in a way that encourages him to continue talking about it.”
Mark Gilliland
Len Powers, a former clinical director at Masters and Johnson, says, “When someone discloses something that is painful or personal, we deal with it in a way that encourages him to continue talking about it.”
Psychologist Roger Gennari believes it’s possible to challenge and probe without attacking, humiliating or shutting down clients’ emotions.
Mark Gilliland
Psychologist Roger Gennari believes it’s possible to challenge and probe without attacking, humiliating or shutting down clients’ emotions.

She's also willing to take matters into her own hands. One former client, she says, refused to tell his second wife that he'd molested his son during his previous marriage. "She had a nine-year-old daughter," Clark recounts. "We called our lawyer and said, 'We're goin' out on that limb,' and then we called her in and told her. She packed her bags early the next morning.

"I brought another guy in and said, 'Tell your mother what you did,'" Clark continues. "She said, 'Why are you making him tell those lies?' He was crying, 38 years old. Child molesters cry all the time. That's why we don't bring them in this room, because we have Kleenex in here. 'Waah-waaah, I was molested myself as a child.' Well, we are not talking about you. We'll get to you -- because you have to address their issues -- but that's not the focus now."

She sighs. "They are very immature. When they get here and say, 'I don't have money to pay,' I'll go to group and go to the big board and say, 'Let's do a budget here, because I want this money. How much do you spend on such-and-such?' Many still live with their mothers. We have caused them to move out. You talk about attorneys calling! We've gotten grown people don't know what size pants they wear."

Not all Clark's clients leave angry. "I owe BSI my life," says one former therapy participant. "Marie might be a little abrasive, but she does have your best interests at heart. You don't realize that right away -- it could take months. But if you are in recovery and you haven't reoffended, how the hell could she be too tough? I mean yeah, she's a bitch and she's money-hungry, but today I'm successful, and I used all the knowledge that she taught me."

Says another former client: "After a while I started loving this whole therapy thing. I just became really, really interested in it." He laughs dryly. "Then again, if you rebel, you are never going to get out of there. She knows a lot of people, has some kind of connection with Missouri.

"She wasn't one of my favorite persons when I first got there," the former client adds. "She always had this attitude, let me say, bitch. But that's not really Marie. She is not this totally bad bitch you would think she is. She is great and wonderful. And you can't fool her."

Clark's colleagues see it differently. "Marie can get down and dirty; she doesn't do a lot of psychobabble, and she's not pompous like the rest of us," says a local therapist, who speaks on the condition that his name not be published. "She's a great entertainer. But she humiliates and dehumanizes her clients to make them admit -- and then nothing positive follows.

"Everyone wants to hate sex offenders," the therapist continues, "and Marie's a very boastful, strong woman whom no one has ever challenged. I don't know that anyone's willing to take her on."


From 1982 until 1988, Clark worked for the Missouri DOC, where she set up the state's first sex-offender program. MoSOP's modus operandi consisted of gathering offenders into groups and hammering at them until they exhibited new ways of thinking and behaving. Clark still has her handwritten drafts of the principles she insisted they memorize: "Problems will be the focus of group work, not strengths.... Assume the worst. Never trust your thoughts or actions because they haven't worked very well yet.... Don't waste time with WHY the problem exists or with WHO caused it." Nearly two-thirds of all participants failed to graduate from the program.

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