Global warning messages sent through email are one of the tools UT utilizes to keep students safe. These emails are how we hear about sexual assaults on campus or nearby, but we do not receive information about convicted sexual predators who are living nearby.
Last week Bobby Joe Helms, who is more infamously known as the Hyde Park rapist after he was convicted of raping 12 women in the downtown neighborhood in the ‘80s, returned to live in Tampa. On top of the 12 convictions of rape and 13 years in prison, he was sent back once again for two counts of rape, in which both of the women were under 18. This time the incidents took place in the Clearwater area as reported by Bay News 9.
On March 31, Helms moved to the 2800 block of Nebraska Avenue, where he registered himself in the official sex offender database. This address is just less than 3 miles away from UT, and students received no notification. With such a dangerous man free to roam the streets around our campus, we should have heard more about it. He has already relocated, but this time he is settling into a neighborhood only minutes away from local Tampa schools.
East Ellicott Street, Helms’ current location, is 10 minutes from UT, one block from Middleton High School, and less than a mile from Ferrell Middle School. Helms should not be allowed to reside near these schools because there is a great chance that he could strike again.
Florida law cannot do anything to prevent Helms from living that close to a high school and middle school, WTSP News 10 reported. It is imperative that parents are informed of Helms’ criminal history so that they can keep their children safe. Considering the number of rapes Helms has committed, some of which involved minors, it seems too risky for him to be near a school. Parents of students, as well as Helms’ new neighbors told WTSP News 10 that they are very concerned about about the safety of their children, with good reason.
“I don’t like it, because we have kids over here. And if he’s there in Hyde Park raping, he could easily rape one of these kids around here,” neighbor Sylvia Hall told WTSP News 10.
Hall makes an excellent point. As opposed to Hyde Park, which has people walking around the streets at all times for dining, shopping and entertainment, Helms could easily attack students as they are leaving school. Other neighborhoods have fewer pedestrians than a popular area like Hyde Park, which means there are fewer people around to witness a possible crime.
Tre Hansen, a senior business management major, thinks that this situation is unnerving and believes the UT community should know who is roaming the streets now.
“The greater Tampa community in general should be aware of what’s going on and be concerned,” Hansen said.
Unfortunately, global messages are only used for situations that are considered dangerous and immediately threatening to the institution, as reported by Linda Devine, the Vice President for Operations and Planning at UT.
“The University follows the protocols set forth for campus safety by the U.S. Department of Education,” Devine said. “An “immediate” threat as used here encompasses an imminent or impending threat, such as an approaching forest fire, as well as a fire currently raging in one of your buildings.” I think the protocols set by the U.S. Department of Education need to be revised. It is time for rape and sexual assault to be seen as an imminent threat. To my knowledge, there have been no fires on campus in recent years, but there surely have been rapes and sexual assaults. The Department of Education needs to restructure their protocol for university safety alerts in order to prevent dangerous acts that are happening to students on a regular basis.
UT should be able to use global email messages for prevention, not just to report bad news that has already happened. I think it would make students more aware of what areas are safe, especially at night when most sexual assaults are reported.
Liz Rockett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.