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

Categories: Featured Article, SANE Program


originally posted by WFAA.com
by TANYA EISERER
E-mail teiserer@wfaa.com — @tanyaeiserer

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.”

SMU under federal investigation over handling of sexual violence complaints

Categories: SANE Program

originally published by DallasNews.com
By MELISSA REPKO, Staff Writer mrepko@dallasnews.com

Southern Methodist University was included on a list released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education of 55 colleges and universities facing a Title IX investigation over their handling of sexual assault complaints. File 2010/Staff Photo

Southern Methodist University is among 55 colleges and universities under federal investigation over their handling of sexual violence complaints.
The U.S. Department of Education released the list of schools Thursday — two days after a White House task force promised more government transparency about sexual assaults on college campuses. However, the department would not provide any details on individual complaints or investigations.
Courtney Underwood, co-founder of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, said the list may encourage parents and students to research how their college or prospective college handles sexual assault reports.

“They are going to check that list,” she said. “This is going to become a part of college rankings.”

The only other Texas school on the list is University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg.

The investigations are done under the federal law known as Title IX, which prohibits gender-based discrimination, including sexual violence and harassment on college campuses. It requires universities to investigate all sex crimes and to have an internal grievance procedure to handle sexual assault reports.

It was the first time the Education Department has revealed such a list. The government stressed that the investigations are open and it has not determined whether the universities or colleges have violated the law.

The 55 schools ranged from big public institutions like Ohio State University and the University of Michigan to smaller private schools like Vanderbilt University and Harvard University.

Some investigations were prompted by complaints directly to the federal department. Others were triggered by news stories and other factors, the department said.

College task force

SMU has faced scrutiny over its handling of sexual assault cases. In 2012, SMU President R. Gerald Turner appointed a task force to review the university’s sexual misconduct policies after the Dallas County district attorney’s office raised concerns. The school has already implemented some of the task force’s 41 recommendations.

The matters under federal investigation were already reviewed by SMU and predated the university’s task force on sexual misconduct policies, said SMU spokesman Kent Best.

He said federal investigators have asked to review records in three cases.

“One involved a complaint of inappropriate language in a classroom, one involved an alleged sexual assault that was later dismissed by the Dallas County district attorney’s office, and the third case is currently the subject of litigation,” Best said in an email to The Dallas Morning News. He said that only one of the cases involves an assault.

Best said administrators are reviewing the new White House report, will compare it to SMU’s task force recommendations and will make any necessary changes.
In a news release, SMU said it “has been aggressive in putting into practice wide-ranging new procedures to inform and protect our students, to provide prompt and effective resolution of complaints, and to hold violators accountable while treating all students fairly.”

The university commended the Department of Education’s “efforts to eradicate sexual violence on college campuses and to provide universities with additional tools to combat sexual assault. Our goals are the same.”

The Obama administration has made sexual violence on college campuses a focus this year and appointed a task force of Cabinet members to draft national guidelines to help universities prevent sexual assaults and properly respond to to them.

The White House has said that as many as 1 in 5 female college students is assaulted. Most of the sexual assaults occur in the student’s freshman or sophomore year, and many are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, according to the report.

New website

The task force’s report, released Tuesday, announced the creation of a website, notalone.gov, offering resources for victims and information about past enforcement actions on campuses. The task force also made a wide range of recommendations to schools, such as identifying confidential victims’ advocates and conducting surveys to better gauge the frequency of sexual assault on campuses.

The White House task force called on universities to conduct a campus climate survey next year and said it may require the survey starting in 2016.

The Education Department pledged to keep an updated list of schools with open Title IX investigations. In the past, the department would confirm an investigation but did not publish a list or publicize the names of universities.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said during a White House briefing Thursday that there had been “lots of internal debate” about whether to release the list but that transparency is important.

“No one probably loves to have their name on that list,” Duncan said. “But we’ll investigate; we’ll go where the facts are. And where they have done everything perfectly, we’ll be very loud and clear that they’ve done everything perfectly.”

The department can terminate federal funding if a school violates Title IX, but it has never done so. It usually reaches a negotiated resolution, said Dorie Nolt, an
Education Department spokeswoman.

Nolt said the department cannot discuss specifics of the SMU investigation. She said it was opened in 2011.

Changes made

Last spring, SMU’s task force issued a report that recommended new education and prevention efforts, more sexual assault counselors and more ways for students to report campus crimes. University officials say they’ve already implemented some of them, such as redesigning SMU’s health and safety website, and requiring incoming students to take a two-hour online course about sexual assault prevention.

Underwood, who was an SMU task force member, said the university took positive steps but must continue to create a climate where victims feel safe to come forward.
SMU was sued by a student this year who says she was raped by an acquaintance in a campus dorm. Her lawsuit says SMU is liable because it “knew of at least one prior attack on a student” by her alleged attacker. The lawsuit says SMU failed to provide proper guidance during the campus disciplinary process, such as answering procedural questions.

Court records include a letter sent to SMU’s president by the student’s mother. In the letter, she wrote that her daughter “suffered ridicule, name-calling, and harassment from other students” and heard of students who “refrained from coming forward because of her type of experience and their lack of trust in SMU’s system.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Schools facing Title IX investigation
The following schools are listed as being under open investigation as of May 1, 2014:
• Arizona State University
• Butte-Glen Community College District
• Occidental College
• University of California-Berkeley
• University of Southern California
• Regis University
• University of Colorado at Boulder
• University of Colorado at Denver
• University of Denver
• University of Connecticut
• Catholic University of America
• Florida State University
• Emory University
• University of Hawaii at Manoa
• University of Idaho
• Knox College
• University of Chicago
• Indiana University-Bloomington
• Vincennes University
• Amherst College
• Boston University
• Emerson College
• Harvard College
• Harvard University – Law School
• University of Massachusetts-Amherst
• Frostberg State University
• Michigan State University
• University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
• Guilford College
• University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
• Minot State University
• Dartmouth College
• Princeton University
• Cuny Hunter College
• Hobar and William Smith Colleges
• Sarah Lawrence College
• Suny at Binghamton
• Denison University
• Ohio State University
• Wittenberg University
• Oklahoma State University
• Carnegie Mellon University
• Franklin and Marshall College
• Pennsylvania State University
• Swarthmore College
• Temple University
• Vanderbilt University
• Southern Methodist University
• The University of Texas Pan-American
• College of William and Mary
• University of Virginia
• Washington State University
• University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
• Bethany College
• West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.

SMU on Sex Abuse List

Categories: SANE Program

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The Education Department released a list of universities facing a Title IX investigation over their handling of sexual abuse complaints.

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