Flower Mound approves stricter sex offender ordinance as safety measure

Published in The Dallas Morning News on Nov. 6, 2015

Sex offenders have fewer options to reside in Flower Mound after changes were made to the town’s ordinance.

The changes collapsed pockets where offenders could live in eastern Flower Mound and created areas where they cannot live in the western part of town, which was previously open to them. The town unanimously approved the ordinance 5-0 at its Sept. 21 meeting.

Now, registered offenders must remain 2,000 feet from locations where children commonly gather. That distance was previously 1,500 feet. The changes also added trail systems and public or private youth centers to the previous list of prohibited areas of public parks, public and private schools, public and semi-public swimming pools, day care centers and video arcades.

“The first priority of any PTA is the safety and well-being of our children,” said Katherine Sells, president of the Lewisville Council of PTAs. “We support any ordinance or law that increases the safety of our children, whether that’s on the bus, on school grounds or at home.”

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Itamar Gelbman championed the ordinance, hoping to keep Flower Mound one of the safest towns in the country, he said.

“I don’t see this as a second punishment for the sex offenders, I see it as a safety measure,” he said. “We have not banned them from Flower Mound, they can still live in the town — we just made it safer for the kids.”

The lives of sex offenders

All 18 registered sex offenders in Flower Mound will be grandfathered in under the old ordinance for their existing addresses, according to Flower Mound Police Capt. Wess Griffin. New or repeat offenders who already own or rent homes in town are also filed under the old ordinance.

Griffin supplied neighborsgo with a new map of the prohibited areas. Two offenders live outside the restricted areas, both in the western part of Flower Mound which is mostly undeveloped or with expensive estates that can be difficult to afford for sex offenders.

Gelbman said the town still has room for them to move in — even if not immediately. Much of western Flower Mound is under development into low- and medium-density residential neighborhoods. A large portion is zoned for agricultural use. Most of this land also lies in the Cross Timbers Conservation Development District where development and re-zoning are limited but still possible.

“The western part of Flower Mound is a little bit more expensive than the eastern part,” he said. “It’s harder for them to live there because market conditions dictate that the western part of Flower Mound is more expensive. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

Town council member Bryan Webb lives in the western part of town. He said he’s not concerned that the area will become a “sex offender haven.”

The land will develop along the same lines as Chimney Rock or High Meadow, “with 1- or 2-acre lots at a significant price point,” he said, but “it wasn’t intentional to block out the entire town.”

“There is a school being built at Canyon Falls. There is land being purchased for parks,” he said. “And in terms of the large landowners, I’d be surprised if they would be interested in cutting off a 2-acre plot for an individual house.”

The ordinance does not consider landscaped street medians as public parks or equestrian trails as multi-use trails, which is what makes west Flower Mound an option for sex offenders.

Although the Flower Mound ordinance might seem strict, it’s lighter than many area restrictions.

Richardson’s ordinance, passed in October 2006, also makes the buffer zone 2,000 feet, which causes 98 percent of the city to be off-limits to convicted child molesters.

Aubrey City Council passed a sex offender ordinance on July 21. The city made it unlawful for sex offenders to live within 1,000 feet of where children gather, and also made it illegal to loiter within 300 feet of a child safety zone. Violators can be fined $2,000 a day for each violation. In Flower Mound, violators are charged with a misdemeanor and upon conviction fined a sum not to exceed $500 for each offense.

Little Elm passed an ordinance in 2007 that also established a 1,000-foot buffer zone. It furthered restrictions by prohibiting sex offenders from visiting within that zone. It provides exemptions so offenders can attend school, transport their minor children to and from school, engage in business or visit friends and family. However, law enforcement might require proof.

Facing lawsuits

Lewisville restricts sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of schools, playgrounds, day-care centers and pools. In 2012, The Dallas Morning News reported that Aurelio Duarte and his family sued the city in federal court for its restrictions after two years of living in a 780-square-foot room in an extended-stay motel. The city passed its sex-offender ordinance while Duarte was in jail.

The lawsuit failed and was appealed multiple times. On Aug. 21, a U.S. magistrate for the federal Eastern District of Texas in Sherman recommended to the U.S. District Court that the Duarte claims be dismissed.

In March, the Denton Record-Chronicle reported that Krum was hit with a lawsuit alleging its 2,000 feet restrictions are unconstitutional after a resident was ordered to leave his parents’ house. The lawsuit cites a March 2007 ruling from then-Attorney General Greg Abbott that general-law towns such as Krum cannot enact sex-offender residency restriction ordinances under the Texas Constitution unless authorized by the Legislature.

When the Flower Mound ordinance was before Town Council, Webb inquired about the status of the Lewisville litigation.

“It is a concern of mine,” he said. “My request to the town attorney when we passed the changes was that they monitor that Lewisville litigation closely and advise us of any changes very quickly.”

Gelbman said he is not concerned about the lawsuits and feels “very comfortable that the ordinance will sustain in court and be enforceable.”

Flower Mound resident runs support group for sexually abused and assaulted women

Published in The Dallas Morning News on Dec. 3, 2015

Flower Mound resident Michelle Robinson runs Shelter from the Storm, a support group for sexually abused and assaulted women. Robinson, 36, said she was abused and gang-raped as a child.

“We don’t claim this is a counseling group or to have all the answers,” Robinson said. “But giving real-life examples of how we dealt with our abuse is beneficial to women.”

The support group is affiliated with Irving Bible Church and takes its name from a Christian-based, 12-unit workbook written by Cynthia Kubetin Littlefield and James Mallory.

Kubetin Littlefield said the Shelter from the Storm support group is what she intended when she wrote the book, and that it’s designed to be worked through multiple times. She also released a DVD series to accompany it in group settings.

“I’ve seen it tremendously help women, particularly in the group settings,” she said. “I think it should be mandatory for people to be in a support group because healing won’t really come if you’re not. In support groups, you get so many different views and accounts that may help with your own.”

Robinson said that despite the workbook’s religious base she’s helped women of all faiths, as well as many women who are atheist or agnostic.

“Those women think that if God is real, he could have stopped it and didn’t,” she said. “So we don’t shove scripture down their throat.”

Robinson leads with what she wishes she had heard when she was healing from her abuse, she said.

“The facilitator’s guide is good for those ‘church answers,’ ” she said. “But when you’re dealing with hearts and people, you kind of just need to be real about it.”

Shelter from the Storm offers two-hour classes each week for 12 weeks, one for each chapter of the workbook. Shelter from the Storm usually has three groups a semester with nine women in each. Robinson meets with every woman before placement to make sure similar survivors can support each other.

The organization started in 2006 after Irving Bible Church began a recovery ministry called Celebrate Recovery.

“Survivors found that it didn’t hone in enough on sexual abuse,” Robinson said.

So Robinson met with a woman who found the curriculum, planning to lead classes based on Shelter from the Storm after they finished testing the workbook together. She’s now run the support group for eight years.

“I only do one class at a time because I’m essentially working through my own sexual abuse each time I lead the class,” she said.

Robinson selects and leads other group leaders, meeting with them to get updates on their groups. The group leaders are all women who have been through the program.

“Some support groups use counselors and spiritual leaders to run these groups,” she said. “But until you’ve been put into this situation, you really just don’t get it.”

Shelter from the Storm is also unique because classes close, Robinson said.

“We promised the ladies that nobody new will come in so we can build trust from the very beginning,” Robinson said. “If a woman is late or misses a class, we call them and check in. We love them so much we’re going to push them to be here and on time every single week.”

Robinson said it took her three years of teaching classes to feel healed. When she flips back through her workbook answers, she’s proud to see how she became more honest in her healing over time.

“So I always encourage ladies to be 100 percent honest from the get-go,” she said. “They’re only going to reach that peak of recovery faster if they’re more honest and open.”

Robinson finds that the women are always more honest and vigilant in their recovery in repeat classes.

Chapter 6, when they first share their stories, is when recovery starts to become noticeable, Robinson said.

“Many times, it’s the absolute first time they’ve ever shared their story,” Robinson said. “They break down crying immediately after they finish sharing because they feel relief and freedom.”

Chapter 7, which covers coping with anger, is almost as impactful, Robinson said.

“Survivors don’t understand that it’s healthy to still feel anger after [they] tell their story,” she said. “But they’re angry at everybody because they don’t place the blame where it belongs.”

There is an average of 293,000 sexual assault victims ages 12 and older each year, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. Someone known to the victim commits an estimated 80 percent of assaults. While it’s difficult to know how many sexual assaults actually occur, RAINN estimates that 98 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.

Robinson said that many try writing letters to their abusers for closure but don’t get a response. When they do, the accused only admits to part of the allegation, if at all. Most survivors resort to simulated confrontations. Robinson meets with them alone and takes on the role of their abuser.

“They get really into it and start yelling at me, I’m the [jerk] that did it and that they remember everything,” she said. “It’s a little weird, but it’s all about them just having a voice, and they always feel so much better about life afterward.”

Robinson said she frequently meets women who have been date-raped in Flower Mound. But the women rarely file police reports, she said.

Flower Mound Police Captain Wess Griffin said that sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes nationally. Only 36 percent of rapes are reported to police, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

To date, there have been 23 sexual assaults reported this year in Flower Mound, according to the Flower Mound Police Department. Since 2005, there have been 209 reported sexual assaults in the town. The most assaults, 28, occurred in 2010. The fewest occurred in 2012 — nine assaults.

“The FMPD partners with the Children’s Advocacy Center of Denton County, Friends of the Family, SANE nurses and the Denton County District Attorney’s office to offer victims a network of social services designed to help make the victim whole again after an offense has occurred,” Griffin said. “We encourage victims to come forward and report abuse or assaults so that we can assist them as quickly as possible.”

Griffin said reporting sexual assaults quickly is crucial, but the health and well-being of the victim is most important.

“Oftentimes, victims may take days or weeks before making an outcry to a friend or family member, and this delays the delivery of critical services to the victim and may hinder the investigation of the offense,” Griffin said.

In Texas, there are no statutes of limitations for most sexual assaults and abuse, according to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures. There is also no statute of limitations if a rape kit has been collected and subjected to DNA testing.

“But they get scared because it’s their word against the abusers and it’s hard to prove if they didn’t immediately go get a rape kit,” Robinson said. “Sometimes they ask me to go with them. They make it into the police station and walk back out before talking to the police.”

So, Robinson hopes the biggest lesson survivors learn is to tell someone about the abuse immediately.

“Keep telling people, even if it’s embarrassing, until someone believes you and takes action on your behalf,” Robinson said. “The abuser can’t continue without getting justice like they did with me.”

For more information, email shelterfromthestormibc@gmail.com.