David Wilcox looks just like any other cowboy in Payson.
He wears a Stetson hat, a goatee -- he stuffs his legs into painted-on Wranglers and snaps on long-sleeved cowboy shirts.
He's even a Country-Western karaoke crooner who dreams of singing at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville one day.
But the past of David Wilcox is cold and impassable.
"The other day I went to an audition," Wilcox said. "They liked my music, they liked my voice, but the (owner) said this is a small town and we can't afford to lose customers."
Wilcox is one of 11,000 sex offenders registered in the state of Arizona; he belongs to a handful who reside in the Rim Country, according to Arizona's Sex Offender InfoCenter.
Wilcox said that person is not him.
"I'm an ex-sex offender," Wilcox said. "If you commit a crime ... and you straighten yourself out and prove you can be an asset to society, you should be given a chance."
At 40, David Wilcox's existence is rife with vulnerability and infamy, and with a lanky 6-foot, 5-inch frame, there's no blending in.
Wilcox, like many other sex offenders, has attempted to duck and hide from his past. He's drowned his memories in booze, dulled his pain with self-destruction, and stuffed his emotional void with empty relationships and three failed marriages.
And whenever he starts to feel normal, his mug shot is emblazoned in the pages of the paper, and posted around town -- he's kicked out of bars, loses friends and suffers the shame all over again.
"They have a mandatory registration for sexual offenders," Wilcox said. "I understand that. I want to protect society. I want to protect my children, however, you have to draw the line when it becomes a witch hunt."
Wilcox's legal troubles started 15 years ago.
"In 1991, I touched my 4-year-old son inappropriately," Wilcox said. "I was under a lot of emotional stress. After five years of marriage, my wife told me that she'd been married the whole time and that she had just gotten a divorce. l went crazy. I just lost it. I started drinking, watching pornography -- it just kept getting worse."
Ron Peterson, a Payson psychologist, said most sex offenders and sex addicts seek an emotional fulfillment, not sexual gratification through their acts.
"Very often there's an anger issue that's lying underneath the whole thing," Peterson said. "And a lot of embarrassment. I am just astounded by the number of males who have been abused by a family member or a relative. It's not homosexual, it's more of some kind of family dysfunction, and the offender is reliving (his) own family abuse issues."
Wilcox, who was sexually abused as a young boy, and then raped by three men when he was 17, remembered the early 1990s as a time when the force of his broken childhood, and marriage to a fellow sex addict and former prostitute buckled under the weight of his low self-esteem and alcoholism.
"My wife had just told me she was divorced. I woke up from a long drunk. I was still pretty messed up and I touched (my son) inappropriately ... he was just there."
Wilcox said the abuse happened one time, and after that, he hit rock bottom.
"It's like I woke up and I cried out to God, ‘What did I just do?'" Wilcox said. "What's wrong with me? I knew what I was doing was wrong.
"For two years I was in total shock. I was suicidal. I was having a really hard time living with what I'd done. I wanted to figure out what caused me to do it."
In 1993, Wilcox turned himself in. He called his mother, who in turn contacted the police.
Wilcox attended a three-month, court-ordered, sexual addiction treatment program and was placed on probation.
Then, he fell in love with a 16-year-old girl.
"She and her family treated me decent despite my past, despite what happened," Wilcox said. "Legally I knew I shouldn't, but the relationship and the friendship meant more to me. I haven't had a lot of happiness in my life and when I get some, it means more to me than anything."
Wilcox said the affair landed him in a Utah prison for five years for breaking the terms of his probation -- having contact with a minor.
According to the United States Department of Justice, sex abuse happens more often among family members than with strangers. Twenty-six percent of sexual assault cases occurred between a parent and child; 30 percent of sex offenders fall into the 21 to 29 range -- Wilcox was 25. About half the offenders are white and 90 percent of the victims are younger than 12.
Peterson said sex addictions are almost always linked to previous physical and sexual abuse.
"I think you'll find all sex abusers will go back to the family," Peterson said. "It's a conflict between wanting to have love from your father and being abused by your father. It's hard to get it untangled."
The Department of Justice's Center for Sex Offender Management reported that 30 percent of sex offenders have experienced some type of sexual abuse.
Wilcox said his sexual abuse started at age 4 when a baby sitter touched him inappropriately and locked him in a closet as punishment.
"This is what sex addiction does to people," Wilcox said. "People who have been abused sexually do not know how to differentiate love and sex. They think if you love me, you'll have sex with me."
Wilcox and his first ex-wife rescinded their parental rights to their two children.
"I wanted them to be brought up with a good family," Wilcox said. "I didn't know how to be a father. My wife was a prostitute. The bedroom is the only place we got along. Other than that, we hated each other."
Sylvia and Bill Brawner of Payson are like adopted parents to Wilcox. His own mother suffers from seizures, and as her disease has progressed, the stress of her son's situation exacerbated her condition.
"She's just sort of pulled back," Sylvia said. "His mother divorced his father at a young age and he didn't always have a role model. He's just impulsive and doesn't consider the consequences."
Even so, the Brawners believe Wilcox poses no threat to other children or society.
"He has been around our grandchildren," Bill said.
"I would never worry about my grandchildren being around David," Sylvia added.
The Brawners said Wilcox continues to improve his life through his faith in God.
"Not all (sex offenders) are alike," Sylvia said. "David's already paid his price. We've seen him come a long way. And we hate to see him kicked down again."
Meanwhile, Wilcox said he'll pursue his dreams of becoming a singing star, and continue to work on becoming a greater asset to the community.
"I have a heart, I have a soul and I have a mind," Wilcox said. "I've already been the worst husband and father I could have ever been. I've already been abusive and an alcoholic. I've already hit rock bottom. It's my endeavor to be the best person ... I can be."
If you're a victim of sexual abuse, seek professional help immediately. Contact the Payson Police Department at (928) 474-5177 or Rim Guidance Center at (928) 474-3303.
If you're struggling with inappropriate sexual thoughts and are afraid of acting out, contact Ron Peterson, Ph.D., at (928) 472-9120 or Rim Guidance Center.