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Sex Offender Sweep Part 2: Offender: 'Accept Help If It's Offered & Change'

NORTHWEST ARKANSAS -- A local sex offender speaks out on the restrictions he faces and how some, but not all, have helped.
NORTHWEST ARKANSAS -- Life as a sex offender brings less privacy and more restrictions. But, some sex offenders say they don't deserve the same post-prison punishment as others.

Ben Johnson, one of them, can looks back on the incident that put him behind bars and changes his life forever.

" I knew I was messing up at the moment," Ben Johnson says.

Back in 2006, police accused Johnson of raping a 7-year-old girl.

"I…pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault, "Johnson says.

"It was in my home, and at the time I was living in Springdale."

A judge sentenced the Northwest Arkansas native to 10 years in prison.

Johnson served two and a half years before paroling out.

"I was married, now I'm divorced," Johnson says.

"I looked for a job for the first year or so. Now, I'm basically self-employed as a handyman."

Johnson admits he lost a lot. And, what he gained isn't something anyone would want.

"Those restrictions are getting more and more excessive," Johnson says.

"It would be nice to think that when I'm, God-willing, 80-85 years old that I no longer had to go up every so often to the Springdale police department and have my picture taken and confirm to them that I'm still in the same nursing home."

As a level 3 sex offender, Johnson's name sits next to many others on Ashley Harvey's list.

Harvey is the sex offender compliance officer for Washington and Madison counties. About once a month, she makes sure each offender is complying with the conditions of his or her parole.

"I think they're usually in for a shock when they're first convicted, or when they first get out of prison," Harvey says.

"…just how restrictive things are and how many eyes are on them."

Johnson has to welcome Harvey into his home any time she comes by to check up on him.

"It does provide an incentive to keep your nose clean," Johnson says.

However, he doesn't agree entirely on how certain restrictions and regulations are required for all sex offenders.

"I guess my biggest complaint is, it tries to be a one-size fits all approach to the problem," Johnson says.

As a part of his sentence, Johnson is required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. And while on parole: no drugs, no guns, no alcohol and no leaving the county.

Johnson would like to see a more diverse set of consequences for what he believes is a diverse set of offenders.

"When you look at the charges, potential sexual offenses…sexual assault 1, 2, 3 or 4…it's very hard to look at people as individuals," Johnson says.

"It's like treating someone who is a weekend pot smoker, the same as a heroin dealer. They're not the same."

Nut, not only is that a tough sell for law enforcement and lawmakers, it's a tough sell for the public.

Officer Harvey says she's getting more and more calls from citizens, asking about offenders: 'Where do they live?' 'Am I safe?' -- something media coverage or new technology, or both, could be blamed for.

"The public is more aware and I think the demand to know what's going on is more prevalent," Harvey says.

There's probably no case more prevalent than Barry Gebhart's. The former Fayetteville athletic director, arrested, charged with internet stalking of a child. And, if found guilty, he would have to register as a sex offender."

"The fact is there's a lot of us out here," Johnson says.

"I don't know how many registered offenders there are in the area, but it's in the hundreds."

For those facing the same restrictions, regulations and door-to door inspections, Johnson's advice remains: don't be reluctant to open that door.

"Own up to what you did, and be willing to accept help if it's offered and change."
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