Sex Offenders: Fear vs. Fact on Halloween

Media fearmongering over “Registered Sex Offenders” in the community has become an annual Halloween tradition in the same way as razor blades and poison in candy.

Wendy Murphy (who famously stated she “never met a false rape claim” during the Duke Lacrosse case) declared in the Boston Herald that “Halloween is like Christmas for sex offenders,” and local news outlets are adding advice to consult the registry as a “safety tip.”

A careful look at available research proves such fears are misplaced. But it hasn’t prevented five states from enacting statutes prohibiting at least some registered sex offenders from participating in Halloween activities:

    • Arkansas enacted a law on July 24, 2019 prohibiting all registrants classified as Tier 3 or 4 from distributing candy or wearing masks where a minor is present UNLESS every minor at the event is a relative of the registrant, or the costumes/ candy distribution is related to legitimate employment.
    • Florida prohibits registrants from distributing candy or other items to children on Halloween; as well as wearing a Santa Claus costume, an Easter Bunny costume, or “other costume to appeal to children” without prior approval from the court.
    • Illinois prohibits Registered Persons from participating in any holiday event (Halloween, Christmas, and Easter) involving anyone under age 18, unless the offender is a parent or guardian of the person under 18 years of age present in the home and no non-familial minors are present.

Registered Sex Offenders in Missouri are barred from hanging out treats during Halloween

Similar statutes appear on the books in Louisiana and in Missouri, which even requires registrants to post a sign on their doors stating “No Candy at this residence,” and leave outdoor lights off from 5pm-10:30pm.

In states where Halloween restriction statutes do not exist, some local or statewide law enforcement operations are planned.

And the list goes on, but not without some pushback.

The National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (NARSOL) has written two statements denouncing the Patch.com’s  annual tradition of posting “Red Dot” maps to the homes of Registered Persons, first in 2017 and again in 2020.

In a published response to the first NARSOL statement in 2017, Dennis Robaugh of Patch.com used a nearly 50-year-old case to justify publishing Registry maps—the murder of Lisa French in 1973.

However, had the registry existed in the 1970s, French’s murderer, Gerald Turner, would not have been on the registry, because like most sex crime arrests, Turner did not have a sex offense conviction at the time of his arrest. Also, like most sex offenders, Turner was not a stranger to his victim; he was a neighbor and an acquaintance of the French family.

A 2009 research study found no spike of sex offenses during Halloween.

Although sex offenders may use seemingly innocent opportunities to engage children and sexually abuse and therefore might be hypothesized to use trick-or-treat for ulterior purposes, this logic does not appear to translate into any actual unusual rate of sex offenses on Halloween,” the study said. .

More pointedly, it added:  “Any Halloween policies that have been adopted by reporting jurisdictions during [the period of the study] appear not to have affected the overall sex offense rate.

This isn’t to suggest that there is no risk on Halloween,  or that anecdotal accounts of Halloween molestations should be dismissed. And it goes without saying that parents should not abandon caution and should make every effort to ensure reasonable supervision of their children.

But why single out Halloween as a cause for alarm?  It appears to be just another autumn day where rates of sex crimes against children are concerned. If anything, increased vigilance concerning risk should be directed to the summer months in general, where regular seasonal increases in rates are readily seen.

Children are three times more likely to be killed by a car on Halloween than any other time in the year, but to date, there are no laws restricting the use of cars during Halloween.

There are many examples in the U.S. justice system where fear trumps evidence-based policy. This is one of them.

Derek W. Logue is a Nebraska registrant and activist for the rights of returning citizens, and founder of the sex offense education and reform website OnceFallen.com.

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