Forty-one registered sex offenders have Stephenville, Dublin and Hico addresses, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Crime Records Service.

More alarmingly, Cross Timbers Family Services President/CEO Jodee Lucero strongly believes even more “predators” lurk locally who have struck and never been caught or who potentially could strike.

“There are more sex offenders who live (in the area) than the 41 registered,” Lucero said late last week.

Of the 41 registered sex offenders locally, 21 are from the 76401 zip code (Stephenville), 15 are from the 76446 zip code (Dublin) and five are from the 76457 zip code (Hico).

Of the 21 sex offenders who reside in the Stephenville zip code area, records show 11 live inside the Stephenville city limits.

And parents need to take notice, Lucero said.

“For the majority of sex offenders, the first time they get caught is not the first time they’ve offended,” Lucero said, citing statistics.

Sadly, Lucero said, “there’s no telling how many victims that they’ve had.”

Lucero said a majority of sex offenders are “going to be friends or family” of the victims.

While parents should continue to warn their children about talking with and being around strangers, they also should watch their children around people “you know and trust,” Lucero said.

Part of the technique of a “pedophile” is to slowly “groom” children, eventually providing them with pornographic material or telling them inappropriate jokes to “see what tolerance that child has,” she said.

Then, over time, Lucero said the perpetrator makes direct contact - sexual in nature - and then tells the child that “mommy and daddy are going to be mad” if they learn of what the child has done.

“They start to place blame on the young child,” Lucero said.

Lucero said parents could reduce the chances of children being sexually abused if they keep an open line of communication with their children, which she acknowledged can be difficult as children get older.

“They need to realize that secrets and keeping secrets from their parents is not healthy,” Lucero said.

Lucero said parents should “educate themselves about their community - when they enlist their child (in sports) and after-school programs … and be familiar with the individuals your child is spending time with.”

Parents should monitor their child’s behavior just as they monitor drinking of alcohol and pregnancy, she said.

“I think they need to be just as concerned about the relationships they’re having with other people and whether those relationships are positive relationships for them to have,” Lucero said.

“Not only do we need to be watching our children, but we need to be playing close attention to other children, “ she continued.

The issue came to the forefront last week when Stephenville City Council member Nancy Hunter proposed an ordinance to prohibit registered sex offenders from living within a half-mile of places where children congregate.

Across Texas, legislation is being pushed and passed to limit where registered sex offenders can reside.

Hunter’s proposal would required registered sex offenders to reside only in locations that are not within 2,500 feet from places children frequent, such as schools, child care centers and public parks.

Currently, a Texas state law adopted in 1994 - under the Child Safety Zone - requires all registered sex offenders to reside at least 1,000 feet away from any location where children congregate in public. In 2003 that law was amended to further restrict movement inside Child Safety Zones, as well as provide exemptions for certain approved activities, such as parole reporting.

However, the state does allow cities and municipalities to enact regulations that meet or exceed the 1,000-foot distance.

Stephenville Police Chief Roy Halsell said he believes Hunter’s proposed ordinance, which will be discussed d by the council in committee on July 17, is a good idea, but officials in Dublin and Hico have said no such plans are in the works.

For additional information, contact Cross Timbers Family Services’ 24-hour hotline at (254) 965-HELP.

DOUG MYERS is Managing Editor of the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at doug.myers@empiretribune.com or (254) 965-3124, ext. 229.