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Dallas lacks ‘buffer zones’ to keep child predators from where kids gather

Categories: Featured Article, SANE Program

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DALLAS — They’ve been convicted. They’ve served their time. They are on the sex offender registry. But in Dallas, that doesn’t stop them from being too close for comfort.

In Dallas, no ordinance prevents a child sex predator from living near or even across the street from a school, a park, or even day care, for that matter.

That’s not the case outside of Dallas. News 8 found as many 18 of Dallas County’s 25 cities – as well as cities in Denton, Collin, and Tarrant counties – have imposed regulations on registered sex offenders who have victimized children. Those ordinance create strict buffer zones around places where children “commonly gather.”

Some cities, such as Mansfield and Frisco, apply their ordinance to all registered sex offenders.

“Sex offenders are going to go in the cities without restrictions,” said Courtney Underwood, an advocate for sexual assault victims. “It’s not a law enforcement issue. It’s a city policy issue. We need it in place. We need to have those restrictions, too, so they don’t all come to Dallas, where they can live wherever they want.”

Dallas already has 3,700 registered sex offenders living inside its city limits, with dozens more registering every month. Police insiders say the city’s lax regulation is making it a haven.

Mayor Mike Rawlings told News 8 that he had no idea that Dallas didn’t have any restrictions. He now says he plans to lead the charge to change things, immediately.

“Where kids go to school, there should be a two-block area around those schools,” Rawlings said. “That should be the safest areas in the city, and we’ve got to make sure they are. […] Sexual predators, that’s not the place they should live.”

The mayor said he will work with the city manager, the police chief, and other city council members to craft an ordinance.

In North Texas, most cities have imposed buffer zones of about 1,000 feet. Some have put in place buffer zones of as much as 2,000 feet, including Balch Springs, Farmers Branch, Richardson, and Grapevine.

News 8 found that the ordinances typically grandfather in registered sex offenders who are already live there, likely because to do otherwise would invite litigation.

Stuart Couch, a licensed sex offender treatment therapist, said all of these restrictions are based on fear and can create more dangerous problem: the issue of sex offenders congregating in certain areas, because they can’t live anywhere else.

He specifically criticized the Grapevine ordinance – passed earlier this year – saying that it created “one essential place where they can live, which means they will be much more likely to be contact with each other.”

He said Dallas would be making a mistake if it followed the pack.

“We certainly wouldn’t want to have them all ending up under the same bridge in South Dallas,” he said. “That would be dangerous.”

News 8 checked the Texas Department of Public Safety’s registry and easily found a number of convicted child sex predators living within shouting distance of Dallas elementary schools.

For example, there’s a man convicted of indecency with a nine-year-old girl, a man convicted of raping two seven-year-old boys, and a man convicted of exposing himself to three small children.

None of them are on probation or parole. If they were, then there would be conditions that could have prevented them from living there.

“I didn’t know that someone could live right across the street front the school who has been convicted of a crime like that, and I don’t think it’s right,” said Jackie Cerrillo, who was picking up her brother from a North Dallas elementary school.

One of those three offenders lives near that school.
Click here to see a map of registered sex offenders in Dallas.

“The average pedophile will molest a 117 children in their lifetime, but they’re hard to catch,” Underwood said. “They’re hard to convict. So once we have a sex offender, who has gone to jail, been convicted or whatever of felony sexual assault of a child, we need to protect the rest of our community from them.

“The reality is that they will recommit,” Underwood continued. “They will attack other children.”

Sheffie Kadane, the head of the city’s public safety committee, and council member Scott Griggs, both also said that they are open to the idea of imposing residency restrictions on sex offenders.

“When you have a sex offender, it’s probably a good thing for them, also,” Kadane said. “They don’t have that constant reminder of what’s out there if they’re not around a school or sitting near a rec center.”

White House Trying to End College Sex Assaults

Categories: Featured Article, SANE Program

Dallas News |

The White House is making a move to end sexual assaults on college campuses. Courtney Underwood is the executive director of SANE – Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners.

New program brings services for rape victims to southern Dallas

Categories: Featured Article, SANE Program

(originally posted
Staff Writer

Courtney Underwood, executive director of Safer Dallas Better Dallas’ initiative to expand rape services, spoke with donors on Thursday.

Matthew Busch/Staff Photographer

Matthew Busch/Staff Photographer

For the first time, sexual assault victims in southern Dallas will be able to go somewhere familiar and close to home if they want a rape exam after an attack.

Methodist Dallas Medical Center in north Oak Cliff began offering the specialized forensic exams this month, a move officials say is long overdue. The hospital is now the nearest option for victims living in crime-ridden areas where most of the city’s sexual assaults occur.

Methodist’s program “represents a powerful step forward in bridging a dangerous gap in services,” Courtney Underwood, executive director of Safer Dallas Better Dallas’ initiative to expand rape services, said at a news conference Thursday.

She said it also sends a message: “Neither privilege nor discrimination will determine who receives services and compassion.”

Dallas Police Chief David Brown and Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins were among those on hand Thursday to publicly applaud the addition of the rape exams. The kits are critical to documenting an assault and preserving evidence needed to nab perpetrators.

Officials hope the change will help address a long-standing concern among poor and minority communities there that feel they aren’t afforded the same resources as those in the north.

“Unfortunately, Dallas has a perceived — and maybe a real — impression that individuals from the southern sector don’t receive services like those in the north,” Watkins said. “This program gives us credibility. It gives us the ability to stand up … and say, ‘Because you’re from South Dallas, you will be treated just as those individuals from North Dallas.’”

Two hospitals north of downtown — Parkland Memorial Hospital and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas — already offer rape exams. Now, Methodist will provide the free service for victims 14 and older.

That’s still only three of 47 hospitals in Dallas County, but that could change in the future. Recent legislation requires that all emergency rooms offer rape exams.

Carolyn Hudson, who was raped by an elder in her church when he had advanced AIDS, welcomes the expansion of sexual assault exams. The Dallas Morning News does not generally name victims of sex crimes unless they agree to be identified.

Methodist didn’t offer rape kits at the time of her 2008 attack, and Hudson had to travel about 30 minutes from her Cedar Hill home to Parkland Memorial Hospital.

“It was far and it was different,” said Hudson, who is now 63 and believes she is HIV-free.

Hudson was certain about prosecuting her attacker, Nathanial Tumbwe, who is serving a 15-year sentence. But she said the hospital’s location would be especially relevant to a victim hesitant to press charges.

“Someone who is on the fence — ‘Do I want to go to the hospital? Do I don’t?’ — that would help them make up their mind,” Hudson said.

Gwendolyn Jones is president of Arise International Inc., a DeSoto-based support group for assault survivors, and called the initiative at Methodist “a huge victory for the community.” She said she hopes it encourages additional services to trickle into the southern part of the county.

“Arise doesn’t have to be the only agency here,” she said. “There is a lot of work to be done.”

Underwood, who is a teenage sexual assault survivor, understands that need better than many.

“When I looked for help in Dallas, there was none in my community,” she said.

Now for more victims, there will be.

Fewer than 18 percent of sexual assaults nationwide are reported.

Two times as many women are sexually assaulted as are diagnosed with breast cancer.

25 percent of women and 10 percent of men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research.

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