A Bismarck man who pleaded guilty to more than three dozen child sex crimes was sentenced Tuesday to 30 years in prison in a case authorities say might have had many more victims than the 21 who were identified.
Dawson Rouse, 23, must also spend 30 years on supervised release following his prison time.
“You knew what you were doing was wrong. You knew what you were doing was illegal,” U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland told Rouse while sentencing him.
Hovland could have sentenced Rouse to life in prison under federal guidelines. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Delorme asked the court for a 40-year sentence followed by 25 years of supervised release. He told Hovland that letters of support sent to the court on Rouse’s behalf made him appear on the surface to be an upstanding, helpful, religious man.
“What you don’t know is Mr. Rouse had another side, a dark side,” Delorme said.
That side was outlined in testimony by Bismarck Police Detective Brandon Rask, whose investigation of the case started with what he thought was a routine curfew violation by two girls. Rask dug deeper when he learned the girls had been with a man over the age of 21. The detective's investigation revealed that Rouse had thousands of friends on the social media platform Snapchat, and a clear pattern of conduct for coercing girls into sending him images and performing sexual acts for and with him. His Snapchat account included 700 blocked friends with whom he no longer communicated, Rask said.
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“After they were of no further use to him, he blocked them,” the detective said.
Rouse communicated with five girls the day he was arrested. Police were able to unlock some but not all of the folders on his cellphone. Opening all of them would have “almost certainly” led to the discovery of more victims, Rask said. Rouse targeted girls ages 12-17, and most were 13-15, the detective said.
The father of one victim testified that his daughter is a different person since being “exploited and injured psychologically and emotionally" by Rouse. His daughter has been excluded from activities, has lost friends, suffers from anxiety and has had her confidence taken away, he said.
“The impact of these crimes doesn’t fade,” he said, adding that it affects every family member, including the girl’s older brother, who feels he’s failed as his sister’s protector.
“Now multiply that by every other girl,” the man said.
The Tribune does not name victims of sexual assault, or others such as parents whose names would identify victims.
Delorme said Rouse’s act included the introduction of rough sex -- hair pulling, strangulation, biting -- and investigators uncovered video of one girl signing a contract of the sex acts to which she agreed. Rouse provided alcohol to some, and in some cases took girls to a drug store to buy morning-after birth control pills, the prosecutor said.
Rouse apologized in court to the victims and their families, and said his actions dishonored his family and the community he grew up in. He directed his comments toward the judge and did not turn to face the rest of the courtroom.
“I hurt people and I have to live with that for the rest of my life,” Rouse said. “I have to own up to the consequences.”
He added, “Nobody should put a human being through what I did.”
Defense attorney Michael Hoffman argued that the 40-year sentence sought by prosecutors was inappropriate because of Rouse’s age and the young age at which he committed the acts. Hoffman in his argument and in a sentencing brief before the hearing referred to a school of thought in which some say the male brain doesn’t fully develop until age 25. Rouse’s acts were “deplorable,” Hoffman said, but he added that the sentence should be based on “logic and what’s cognitively appropriate.” He requested a range of 12 ½ to about 16 years, followed by 25 years of supervised release.
“He’ll always have this conduct, these repercussions to deal with,” Hoffman said.
Hovland before sentencing Rouse said in his 20 years as a federal judge he’d seen “far too many deviants,” adding that seeing intelligent adults abuse children was “beyond troubling.” Social media opens the door for society’s worst to prey on children, and Snapchat conversations can turn very explicit; Rouse followed that pattern, Hovland said.
“I don’t think any of us can comprehend the trauma you’ve inflicted on these young girls,” the judge said.
Rouse was originally charged in state court in Burleigh County in April 2020 with luring teenage girls by electronic means and forcing himself on a 13-year-old girl. More charges were filed in June of that year when a continued investigation produced “numerous additional victims,” authorities said.
The state charges were dismissed after a federal grand jury indicted Rouse in July 2020 on 27 counts including sexual exploitation of a child and attempted sexual exploitation of a child, coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in sexual activity, and transfer of obscene materials to a minor, court documents show.
After further investigation, a 13-count indictment in September 2020 alleged Rouse friended girls on social media and then harassed them until they sent inappropriate images of themselves and agreed to meet with him, then-U.S Attorney Drew Wrigley said. Six of the girls allegedly had sex with Rouse, the prosecutor said.
Rouse often posed as a minor himself, and was seeking young girls for several years prior to his arrest, officials said in court documents.
Rouse in court documents admitted to many of the accusations but denied several allegations of violent acts. Hoffman sought a lighter sentence asking the court to consider his client's age, Rouse's recognition of the impact of his actions, and his willingness to undergo sex offender treatment.
Burleigh County State's Attorney Julie Lawyer said she planned to recharge Rouse at the state level after the federal sentencing was complete. Those charges weren't listed in court documents late Tuesday.
Reach Travis Svihovec at 701-250-8260 or Travis.Svihovec@bismarcktribune.com