When Danyelle Dyer was seven, her half-uncle went to prison for sexually abusing her. Now, 14 years later, he lives next door to her.
Dyer's abuser, 64-year-old Harold Dwayne English, repeatedly molested her during her childhood. "I didn't know it was wrong until he told me not to tell," Dyer, now 21 and enrolled in college, tells Broadly over the phone from her home in Oklahoma. The first person she told about the abuse was her 11-year-old brother; together, they approached their parents and explained what had happened. Her parents went straight to the police, and then to court, where English was convicted of lewd or indecent acts to a child and sent to prison.
Dyer's family later found out he had been previously convicted for sexually abusing a child in Texas—a secret he kept from their entire family, according to Dyer.
When English got out of prison on June 13, 2017, he moved in with his mother, Dyer's grandmother, who lives next door to Dyer and her parents. The family has not heard from her since she first told Dyer's mom she was planning to let English live with her, prompting Dyer's mom to hang up the phone in shock and rage.
Although they haven't spoken since her grandmother let the Dyer family know she'd be allowing English to live with her, Dyer did send her grandmother a letter. "I explained my side of it and how I felt," she says. "How [could] a grandmother who is supposed to nurture, and support, and protect me let my abuser into her house and right next to me? I understand it's her son, but I'm her granddaughter, and she obviously cares nothing for me."
Once they learned the news, Dyer's parents told her they would do everything in their power to ensure that her abuser wouldn't become their neighbor. According to Dyer, they called the prison where English was serving his sentence, their district attorney, and their local sheriff's office, all of which were very supportive. But once officials looked into the Oklahoma state law, the DA phoned the family to say his hands were tied: In Oklahoma, living restrictions for convicted sex offenders only cover schools, parks, and other child-centric spaces. There is no restriction that protects abusers from living near their victims.
Since then, Dyer and her family have been working to amend the law so that it will protect actual victims in addition to potential ones. They've been in contact with Oklahoma Senator James Leewright and Representative Kyle Hilbert, who have both assured the family that the law is likely to change in their favor.
Unfortunately, amending laws takes time, and in that time Dyer will continue to live next door to the man who sexually abused her. "It's a little nerve-wracking knowing that he's so close," she says. "It brings back memories and emotions that I have hidden and put away and I don't want to think about… Him moving in is the first time I've ever felt like a true victim."
Even though she may not be able to do anything to change her immediate situation, Dyer is refusing to remain passive. Her mom had originally made a Facebook post about the situation, in an attempt to garner support, without directly naming Dyer. After the post went up, however, Dyer decided to put her name on it and share her own story. "Meet my abuser and my new neighbor," she wrote in the post.
"I decided that me coming out about it would make a bigger difference in getting this law passed quickly and getting people's support," Dyer says. "It was really rough, but I decided that I would rather make a difference in others' lives than my life be a little easier."
"I'm hoping that other states will also adopt this into their policy too," she adds.
This weekend, she and her parents have organized a rally and protest at her home in Bristow, Oklahoma. "It's a time to support Danyelle Addison Dyer's decision to change the sex offender law and send a clear message that change is needed now," reads the event page. The family has also put up a large lawn sign that reads "CHILD SEX OFFENDER Harold Dwayne English" with arrows pointing to his new home.