For most of us, Halloween is the best time of the year! The trick-or-treating, getting candy, or giving out candy, perhaps even throwing a party. However, for many convicted sex offenders, it is the most dreaded time of the year. Sex offenders require curfews, mandatory “no candy” signs on their doors, group roundups, and even spot checks for compliance are all among the various techniques of control designed to protect the public.
Contrary to the belief that sex offenders should be feared on Halloween, sex offenders are actually not out kidnapping and molesting children on Halloween, and they never have been. In the published study “How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters?: An Analysis of Child Sex Crime Rates on Halloween”, it proved that there is no Halloween spike in sex crimes against children. “The wide net cast by Halloween laws places some degree of burden on law enforcement officers whose time would otherwise be put to better use in addressing more probable dangerous events” (Levenson, 2009). Levenson’s theory, published in the journal, Sexual Abuse, examined crime trends over a 9 year period.
The researchers used data from the National Incident Base Reporting System to evaluate crime trends in 30 U.S states over a 9 year time frame. They didn’t find any increased rate of sexual abuse during Halloween or during the Halloween season. In fact, the number of reported incidents didn’t rise or fall after the police put in place these current procedures. However, unfortunately, empirical evidence seems to be incapable of bringing common sense to bear. Probation officers continue to put in place these ridiculous roundups and other once a year restrictions on sex offenders, instead of aiming their focus on the real threat to children, which I will cover in a moment.
All over the USA on Halloween, probation and parole officers will continue to require convicted sex offenders to not answer their doors, wear costumes, or decorate their homes on Halloween. They are ordered to post a “NO CANDY HERE” sign on their doors (like the one seen above). Others must attend special Halloween “counseling sessions” or “movie nights” where they are monitored. The restrictions are so widespread and varied, despite at least one federal court ruling that the restrictions were overly broad, and ridicule from late night TV pundits of some of the sillier Halloween restrictions.
The ridiculous crackdowns are a perfect example of what Scott Henson from the Grits for Breakfast Blog calls “security theater”, security theater is hyping and pretending to solve a threat that in reality is very remote, even to the point of diverting resources from policing activities like DUI enforcement that would protect much more people and actually save lives. So why Halloween, you might ask? After all, most sex offenders go after people they know, not after children they see in the street. Also, sex offenses are usually committed by men who have never been caught for a past sex offense. Furthermore, registered sex offenders usually feel branded and excluded so most of them are in hiding or stay on the down low.
The scare feeds into a deeper rooted cultural fear of the “bogeyman stranger”, this fear is memorialized in the Halloween legend of so called “tainted candy” that has endured despite countless attempts at correction. Benjamin Radford, of the Skeptical Enquirer discussed the persistence of the stranger danger myth: “despite email warnings, scary stories, and Ann Landers columns to the contrary, there have been only two confirmed cases of children being killed by poisonous candy on Halloween, and in both cases, the children were killed not in a random act by strangers but intentional murder by one of their parents.” (Radford, 2005).
The sad part about both myths is that children are taught a message of fear: Strangers, or even their own neighbors, might try to poison or molest them. I remember the first time I heard this myth, when I was 9 years old, and was trick-or-treating with my friend from school, and when we got home, naturally, I was eager to start eating my candy, however, my friend told me that she cannot eat the candy because her mother has to check it first. I remember being shocked, and thinking why on earth would anyone poison candy for trick-or-treaters? I didn’t believe it, after all, I had been trick-or-treating for years and I never was poisoned! So I just assumed her mother was crazy, but later on, I came to learn that this is a very common belief among most parents in the USA.
So, what is the real danger that children face on Halloween? It’s the one your mother always warned you about: getting hit by a speeding car while crossing a dark street. Car accidents kill about 8,000 children every year in the USA (Vieru, 2008), and children are more than twice as likely to be killed by a car while walking on Halloween night, then any other time of the year (Children’s National, 2020). So maybe next Halloween, show some compassion toward a publicly identified sex offender (or not, up to you!). BUT PLEASE, children, don’t get too friendly with cars!
Levenson, J., & Chaffin, M. (2009, July 6). How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters?: An Analysis of Child Sex Crime Rates on Halloween – Mark Chaffin, Jill Levenson, Elizabeth Letourneau, Paul Stern, 2009. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1079063209340143
Henson, S. (n.d.). Grits for Breakfast. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from https://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/
Radford, B. (2005, October 25). Candy Fears are Mere Halloween Phantoms. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from https://www.livescience.com/434-candy-fears-mere-halloween-phantoms.html
Vieru, T. (2008, December 11). WHO Says 830,000 Kids Are Killed Annually by Accident. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from https://news.softpedia.com/news/WHO-Says-830-000-Kids-Are-Killed-Annually-by-Accident-99829.shtml
(n.d.). Halloween Safety On and Off the Road. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/tools-resources/seasonal-safety/autumn/halloween
(n.d.). Be Safe, Be Seen on Halloween. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from https://www.safekids.org/be-safe-be-seen-halloween