For 37 Years, Lander Therapist Did What Nobody Else Would: Treat Sex Offenders

For 37 years, Wyoming therapist Gary Curtis counseled a segment of the population nearly nobody else would — sex offenders.

Jen Kocher

June 30, 20249 min read

For 37 years, Wyoming therapist Gary Curtis counseled a segment of the population nearly nobody else would — sex offenders.
For 37 years, Wyoming therapist Gary Curtis counseled a segment of the population nearly nobody else would — sex offenders. (Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily)

When Gary Curtis would tell people he counseled sex offenders for a living, he was often met with disdain.

“Cut off their privates or kill them,” people told him.

“We don't do that in our society,” Curtis would reply. “These people need treatment and not to be mutilated or exterminated.”

Curtis was a licensed clinical social worker for 37 years who retired in Wyoming a couple years ago. During his tenure, he was one of few social workers in the state who chose to work with adolescent and adult sex offenders.

As one of the leading pioneers in the field in Wyoming, Curtis earned the nickname “the sex guy” by some in the corrections and legal community.

It's not for everyone, he admitted, and in fact when he retired, Curtis said he couldn’t find anyone to take over his practice. Some of the conversations could be hard, especially when it came to crimes against young children. Those required Curtis to separate from his emotions.

“You have to be a sort of a special mental health individual that's willing to deal with these issues,” he said.

Most clinicians don’t want to get in a room with a group of sex offenders who have committed some pretty horrendous crimes, Curtis said.

“There’s not much interest in that,” he said.

Pioneer In The Field

Curtis, who lives in Lander, began his career in the early 1980s when the teachings of Sigmund Freud dominated the mental health field.

At the time, he was working at the Rock Springs Mental Health Center doing general counseling when one of his fellow therapists returned from a groundbreaking training seminar involving the treatment of sex offenders.

He asked Curtis to join his team to work with this population. Curtis found the idea interesting and began working with an adolescent group of offenders while also counseling victims.

“That’s how it started, and it just progressed from there,” he said.

This led to more training and expertise, and him ultimately almost exclusively specializing working with sex offenders. After briefly working at the Pine Ridge Health Center in Lander, he decided to branch out on his own in 1990.

He sent out flyers to the Wyoming Department of Corrections, judges, attorneys and county attorneys in Fremont and surrounding counties, and his practice took off from there.

He became known as “the sex guy” in legal circles as one of the few practitioners in the state.

Wyoming 6th For Number Of Sex Offenders

Curtis stayed busy, which is not surprising given the high number of sex offenders in the state.

According to a 2023 survey of state sex offender registries, Wyoming ranks sixth in the nation with the most registered sex offenders per 100,000 residents. SafeHome is a company that specializes in home and personal security solutions.

Last year, Wyoming counted 2,542 sex offenders on its statewide registry, according to a 2023 report from the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office. The bulk of those offenders hail from Goshen County with 476 registrants, most of whom are incarcerated in the medium correctional facility in Torrington.

The next leading counties for the highest number of sex offenders are Laramie and Natrona with 450 and 405, respectively.

Accountability, Not Excuses

Curtis was effective in the role because of his ability to work with people of all backgrounds and mindsets, according to Jeremy Vukich. As a regional manager for the Wyoming Department of Corrections Field Services in Riverton, Vukich worked closely with Curtis for about 20 years.

When they first met, Vukich was a case manager at the Wyoming Honor Farm, a minimum custody facility in Riverton, and hired Curtis as a contractor to provide sex offender evaluations and treatment to inmates.

He was impressed with Curtis, who he described as a consummate professional with a good sense of humor.

At the time, Vukich said Curtis was one of the sole providers in the state, and the only one in the western half of Wyoming.

“He was kind of the only game in town,” Vukich said.

After Curtis retired, there was a hole in services. Vukich reached out to Fremont Counseling Services and told them he needed someone to provide sex offender treatment, so the center now has a qualified person on staff to take over Curtis’ contract.

Along with his ability to talk to anyone, Curtis was also very effective in holding sex offenders accountable and getting them to open up about their particular issues, Vukich said, which isn’t easy.

“He had the ability to do that with really difficult people and individuals who committed horrific crimes,” Vukich said. “He could address them all in that same consistent, professional, objective manner … not just for state clients but also federal supervised clients.”

Along with his work with inmates, Curtis was also referred sex offenders by prosecutors and judges and others in the legal community.

It’s difficult work, but Curtis had the constitution for it, Vukich said.

“He believed you could reach people and that people have the capacity to change,” Vukich said. “I think we all go into this work with this mindset.”

For 37 years, Wyoming therapist Gary Curtis counseled a segment of the population nearly nobody else would — sex offenders.
For 37 years, Wyoming therapist Gary Curtis counseled a segment of the population nearly nobody else would — sex offenders. (Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily)

They're Treatable

Curtis said that despite the resounding belief that sex offenders can’t change and should be locked up for life, he has counseled many who never reoffended.

Sexual predators and pedophiles aren’t beyond treatment, despite public perception, he said.

He views sexual offenses and perverse predilections as treatable like other addictions.

“These guys want to change,” Curtis said. “They don't want to be looked at and have to live in the community with this hanging over their heads. They are the lowest on the totem pole wherever they go.”

In his nearly four-decade career working with more than 400 mostly male sexual offenders and pedophiles in a variety of settings, Curtis estimates that about 10% of the men he treated reoffended.

Measuring the effectiveness of sex offender treatment programs varies depending on who you ask, though several studies support Curtis’ optimism in the power of treatment and rehabilitation.

A 2008 study of sex offenders in a Canadian prison documented that 16.9% of treated sex offenders were reconvicted after five years of being released from prison, according to a 2015 brief from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Sex Offender Management and Planning Initiative.

Likewise, a study conducted on sex offenders enrolled in a treatment program in Colorado showed that those who completed the program were three times less likely to reoffend compared to those who did not receive treatment, according to the same brief.

Yet another Minnesota study of sex offenders observed that those inmates convicted for sexual crimes had a 13.4% recidivism rate after completing treatment.

The common theme of all of the research seems to indicate that sex offenders are much less likely to recommit sexual violence in the short term upon their release from prison with ongoing treatment.

Others like Matt Gray, a psychology professor and principal investigator of the Trauma and Sexual Assault Prevention Lab at the University of Wyoming, are skeptical of studies that define success based on recidivism rates, given the number of people who may not have been caught reoffending.

Though he encourages advancements in sex offender treatment, Gray said he sees more benefit in victim-based prevention programs that he said are having a great impact on reducing sexual assaults and violence on campus.

“I’m optimistic about those efforts/programs. But, at the back end, once somebody has perpetrated, I think there’s a reasonable debate to be had about whether treatment or corrections are a better option,” he said.

Common Denominators

Treatment is imperative, Curtis said. His work aims to bring about permanent change.

The key rests in accountability, owning up to one’s crimes and isolating the factors that led to the offenses. Treatment needs to be focused on the root causes. He insisted that sex offenders paid for their own treatment, which he said helped with accountability.

Curtis said he’s isolated at least three common denominators in the sex offenders he’s treated, starting with early childhood trauma that he said had happened in 100% of the patients he counseled. The trauma could be anything from abandonment to physical or mental abuse.

In one case, Curtis worked with a 14-year-old with a learning disorder at the Riverton Group Home for Boys who had abused his 5-year-old half-sister. In his evaluation, Curtis determined that the crime linked to anger from the father abandoning him as a boy after he got remarried. The boy was raised by his grandmother, only occasionally seeing his father.

Much like this teen, there’s typically an underlying reason that contributes to people offending, Curtis said.

Secondarily, Curtis said about 80% to 85% of the sex offenders he has treated also had learning disorders that caused them to struggle in school. This often led to a history of petty crimes and violence like getting into fights and vandalism as a means of managing their anger.

Most of the sex offenders also suffered from low self-esteem that led to defeatist thinking and seeing themselves as “losers.”

Curtis also found that an addiction to pornography also plays a major role in how they perceive sexuality.

Community Protector

One thing is clear in the research, and that’s the role of the fear and anxiety that sex offenders elicit among the general public, which favors protecting the public from sex offenders through incarceration and surveillance, according to a 2016 study titled “Trauma, Violence and Abuse,” published by Sage.

The fear from the public is one of the factors that drove Curtis to do this work.

It's not easy, Curtis admits, and it has been stressful on his family. It's been hard for Curtis at times to process some of the more horrendous crimes offenders that he has counseled have committed.

Vukich applauds the work that Curtis did and his many years of commitment.

“It’s a very difficult population to work with for a wide range of crimes. You have everything from crimes against children and child pornography to sexual assault and violence,” he said. “There’s a lot of stigma to that, so not a lot of people want to spend their time working with and hearing those stories and delving into those issues to try to help people correct them to reduce victims and create a safer place.”

But Curtis saw it as his calling.

“I considered myself to be the protector of the community,” he said. “Much like police help to catch criminals and put them away, I kept these guys in check after they got out of prison.”

Jen Kocher can be reached at

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Jen Kocher

Features, Investigative Reporter