Susan didn’t plan to date a sex offender, but she felt like she had finally met her dream guy in Josh — never mind that she was married at the time.
Susan, 33, and Josh, 31, met in September 2013 when Josh worked a job that delivered beds to the Missouri hospital where Susan worked. According to Susan, a month into the relationship, Josh told her he was on the sex offender registry for a crime he committed while he was serving in the Marines.
“He told me within the first month. He told me very early on because he knew I had two children,” Susan told InsideEdition.com.
Falling for Josh was easy for Susan because she said her marriage with her then-husband was tumultuous.
A few weeks after the pair began secretly dating; Susan’s then husband found out his wife was seeing Josh behind his back. Their children were 2 and 5 at the time.
"My husband came home early one day after having a big fight over the weekend and he caught Josh and me in the shower,” Susan said. “I did try to end our relationship a few times but the chemistry was just so strong that it was hard to let each other go. I didn’t mean for it to happen."
After the discovery, Susan’s ex-husband filed for divorce in November 2013, but it wouldn’t be until much later that he would discover Josh’s status as a registered sex offender.
A few months into their relationship, Susan allowed Josh to meet her two children. She said she felt that she understood Josh’s crime and knew him to be a good person.
“He disclosed what happened and how it happened, all of that to me. I could see from his point of view. It’s not totally his fault that this happened," said Susan. “I didn’t find him as a threat.”
Susan isn’t the only woman willing to overlook the past of the man she loves, even a man with his name on the sex offender registry.
While it may seem surprising to many, some women are willing to go through being outwardly shunned by family and their communities in the defense of the men because to them, love trumps all.
Their experiences being in a relationship with a sex offender may be different, but these women have another thing in common: An undeniable faith in their men.
Susan’s boyfriend Josh was 21 at the time of his crime. He was arrested in 2007 in California while serving in the Marines and remained in the brig, a military jail, until he was found guilty of wrongfully transporting and possessing child pornography in 2008.
Following the conviction, he was dishonorably discharged from the military.
According to court documents, Josh was found with a collection of more than 1,500 images and 20 videos of children ages six and older being raped, orally sodomized, and sexually molested.
Josh’s mom, Vicki, has come to his defense by saying he was molested by a member of his family beginning at age 6, although it didn’t come to light until after his crime.
Josh also told InsideEdition.com that he tried to get help when he realized he was in trouble, but was blown off by one of his commanding officers in the military.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but only served four due to a pre-trial agreement, according to records.
The last year of his sentence was spent at a treatment facility for sex offenders, which Josh said he wanted to participate in. He was released in 2011 and put on parole for three months.
It was then that Josh moved to Missouri, where he was required to register as a sex offender, and in accordance with Missouri law, he will be on the registry for the rest of his life. Not every state has lifetime registry requirements. Missouri, however, doesn’t categorize the level of offense into three levels, as other states do.
Many other states follow the “Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking” (SMART) guidelines, which were authorized in accordance with Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. The guidelines provide a set of minimum standards for sex offender registration and categorize offenders into a three tier/level system, which is based on the severity of an offender’s crimes — Level 3 being the most dangerous offender.
The SMART guidelines indicate Tier 1 means 15 years on the registry, Tier 2 means 25, and Tier 3 is life on the registry. According to Justice Department, as of 2014, 17 states had come into substantial compliance with SMART guidelines.
Josh is required to re-register every 90 days under Missouri law, which in some other states would only be reserved for Level 3 offenders. He is also not allowed to live within 1,000 feet of a school or loiter within 500 feet of a public park or swimming pool, among other constraints.
Because Josh is not currently on parole, however, he is not prohibited from being around kids and therefore nothing prevented him from forming relationships with Susan’s children or eventually moving in with her.
The many stipulations that come with being a registered sex offender are something that Melissa knows all too well. She is married to a Level 3 offender.
“If you look at him on paper he looks like a monster, but if you get to know him, he’s not that,” she told InsideEdition.com.
Melissa, 40, and her husband Jerry, 47, live in Minnesota with their 8-year-old daughter.
In 1985, when he was 15 years old, Jerry was convicted of second-degree criminal misconduct and received probation for fondling boys from the ages of 6 to 8 years old. He reportedly knew his victims. Melissa, however, told InsideEdition.com that Jerry explained to her what happened and she maintains the arrest was based on a falsified story.
Then in 1994, at 22 years old, Jerry was convicted of third-degree sexual contact for a second crime when he had sex with a 15-year-old girl. He was married to his now ex-wife and had a 1-year-old daughter.
Jerry was initially given probation and mandated to undergo treatment, but Melissa said because of his lack of consistency with the sessions, it was declared that he violated his probation. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 1997 and upped to a Level 3 offender.
Following his release, Jerry was also twice convicted for failing to register as a predatory sex offender in 2004 and 2006, a felony. Melissa attributed the convictions to the confusion and complications of the rules and paperwork that go along with being on the registry.
Sex offenders are often required to register anywhere from every three months to once per year. Re-registering can include reporting to the local police station to have an updated picture taken and filling out paperwork with information like any schools they are attending, residence, employment and car type, among other information.
In Minnesota, registered sex offenders must give written notice at least five days before moving or changing their primary address as well.
Although Jerry has been off probation since 2014, he’ll be on the registry for 20 more years because of his violations.
“We have been married for almost seven years, and although the constraints of the sex offender registry can be brutal, we are so very happy with each other,” Melissa said.
She met Jerry at a charity event in 2006 – 17 years after his second offense. She said they became friends before becoming romantically involved. When he told her his status on the registry soon after they began dating, and she made a conscious decision to stay with him.
“At first I was like okay, wow, but I was also able to hear the whole story of things and confirm it with outside sources. So it’s just kind of like a 'wow, what kind of stigma does that carry?' I have my own faith and beliefs that people can change and grow and become better people,” Melissa said.
She said she previously held the idea that once you were a child molester you are always a child molester, but she realized Jerry’s story is different. She said Jerry owns up to his mistake. She added that he was young and it took him a while to realize that what he did was wrong.
“His story was the story of someone who should have said no to someone who was a little too young,” Melissa said. “He doesn’t like what he did. It took him a long time to understand that what he did was wrong because she was willing and he was willing. He was the adult. He should have said, 'this isn’t something you shouldn’t be doing at this age.' He didn’t make that decision and he hates it.”
Although some sex offenders may realize their crime and be able to move forward, Sherry Lewis, director of therapy at Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, said it’s not that simple for the victims.
“When we think about adult survivors of child abuse, the impact of that is really far-reaching. What we see is that trauma impacts a person’s belief systems,” Lewis said. “The main emotion we see connected with childhood trauma is grief, so feeling as though something was taken from them and shame so they have to work through those emotions in their adult lives.”
And while Melissa and Jerry want to move on, Melissa said their community hasn’t made it easy.
When they married in 2009, Melissa chose to hyphenate her name and give their daughter her last name because of the “torture” that Jerry’s two children from his previous marriage endured in school because of his known status around town.
When a Level 3 sex offender moves into a city, it is publicized on the radio and in the paper along with their address.
They had a town meeting when Jerry and Melissa moved to their current residence and Melissa said that someone reportedly announced what their car looked like.
“We had our tires popped four times within the first two weeks of moving here,” Melissa said. “We have had people break our side mirrors as well. We’ve had problems in three places that we’ve lived.”
Jerry has also lost jobs because of his status.
“He worked at one place as a dishwasher but he loved it. He told everyone about his past and status,” said Melissa. “We moved to a new town and they publicized him and put him on the front page because a resident complained the picture wasn’t big enough. His job freaked out and let him go.”
Having a child, who has to interact with other children, is another the bridge the pair has to cross.
The couple sits down with the parents of their daughter’s playmates and explains to them that Jerry will never be left alone with their children. Melissa also informs them that she has gone through sex-offender supervision courses to ease any of their concerns.
"The biggest effect the registry has in my life is the effect it has on my family because the community treats my entire family as if they are sex offenders as well," Jerry told InsideEdition.com.
According to Melissa, some of her family, however, does not agree with her decision to marry Jerry.
“I’ve had arguments with family members. I’ve had people ask me how I can forgive someone like this,” said Melissa. “My grandma told me I should have walked away before I ever had children.”
Melissa says her love for Jerry is greater than outside opinion.
“He is the father of my children and I never want to live without him. I've found when love is solid and strong the outside world doesn't matter as much,” said Melissa. “We did not mean to fall in love. But as we got to know each other, I found him to be funny and kind, honest and sweet. There was something about him that made me feel safe, and that is not something that happens often.
In cases like Susan’s though, when your children are from a previous marriage, there is an entirely different bridge to walk over.
Josh moved in with Susan and her two daughters in November 2015, after two years of dating. Susan never disclosed to her ex-husband that Josh was on the registry.
When he found out in July 2016, he filed a motion to get an order of protection that would prevent Josh from being around his children. It was granted in October.
According to the order, Josh can no longer be around or talk to Susan’s children. Susan’s ex-husband also filed a motion to modify their divorce and obtain full custody of their daughters.
The parents currently share 50/50 custody.
“I am very protective of my children. I am a mom. Given what the conviction is and everything there is some nervousness surrounding it but I have been with Josh for a long time and I knew what type of person he was,” said Susan. “I also monitor the things that he does at home in regards to the internet and that kind of stuff. If I thought that he was a threat to my children, I wouldn’t even be in a relationship with him.”
Susan does admit she may have made a bad judgment in not telling her ex-husband that Josh is a registered sex offender.
“I didn’t tell him and maybe that wasn’t right but there is no statute that says I have to,” Susan said.
Susan’s ex-husband, who did not want to speak for the article, made a GoFundMe account in which he asked for help with legal fees to get custody of his children.
In the post, he called Susan bipolar. He also calls Josh a creep and a pedophile.
He added that he wants to provide a safe home for his children by taking full custody of them.
“They are in very real danger every day,” the post said.
Susan confirmed that she is bi-polar and has been on-and-off medication for years due to the costs.
The custody battle and order of protection means Josh and Susan are only able to see each other when Susan doesn’t have her daughters.
“I know we want to stay together but trying to make it work with him not being able to be around the kids and only being able to see each other half the time, I don’t know if it’s going to work,” said Susan. “He’s that person you look for your whole life and hope to find and it sucks that he basically has to wear this scarlet letter for the rest of his life. He would not hurt a child.”
Josh said he offered to speak with Susan’s ex-husband to sort this out in another way, but his attempt failed.
“I treated them as my own kids,” Josh told InsideEdition.com. “I think if I stay with her she will lose her kids. I don’t want to be responsible for that. If this wasn’t happening I’d still be living with her and we’d still be together, all of that. We make mistakes. We are not all monsters.”
(Last names have not been used to protect the identities of those involved.)