Halloween Sex Offender Laws Are Unjustified

U.S. Army Korea/FlickrU.S. Army Korea/FlickrKids aren’t the only ones letting their imaginations’ fears run wild on Halloween: parents, politicians, and police officers across the country are continuing to support laws that ban registered sex offenders from participating in Halloween, despite evidence that these policies are unnecessary and harmful.

Illinois is one of the latest states to implement a ban: its Child Sex Offender Holiday Costume Prohibition law, which will apply for the first time this Halloween, prohibits registered child sex offenders from handing out candy or keeping their home lights on during the holiday celebrations. To enforce the law, police plan to drive around offenders’ homes during trick-or-treating hours to monitor for compliance.

The law is similar to many others already on the books in dozens of small towns, cities, and other states. In New York, Operation Halloween forbids registered sex offenders from leaving their homes during designated hours, wearing costumes, or participating in “any Halloween activity.” In Virginia, offenders on probation* in certain districts are required to attend city-organized meetings during the festivities, which offer “educational sessions” and mandatory drug and alcohol screenings. Those are just a few.

The motivations for Halloween sex offender laws are clear: as a local police sergeant said of the new Illinois law to the Quad-City Times, they help “give parents peace of mind.”

But peace of mind from what? Their imaginations? There is virtually uncontested evidence that registered sex offenders pose no heightened threat on Halloween. As Scott Henson noted in 2008 at Grits for Breakfast, which covers the Texas criminal justice system:

Kids trick or treating are more likely to be hit by lightning while going door to door than they are to be abducted by a registered sex offender.

There's only one [documented] case in the history of the planet where a child was abducted by a stranger while trick or treating (in Wisconsin in 1973). In that instance, the killer had no prior record and wouldn't have been on any sex offender registry even if it had existed.

Additionally, as explained by Reason's Jesse Walker, a 2009 study in Sexual Abuse: Journal of Research and Treatment analyzed child sex crime rates and found “no significant increase in risk for non-familial child sexual abuse on or around Halloween.” This was corroborated by a 2010 study, which analyzed crime statistics from 30 states and determined, "There is zero evidence to support the idea that Halloween is a dangerous date for children in terms of child molestation."

But while Halloween sex offender laws are based on unjustified fears rather than reality, they cause real harm.

Andrew Extein, a psychotherapist writing for the Huffington Post, said of his experience with registered sex offenders:

The consequences of such ordinances are grave. Parole violations, recidivism, vigilante justice, and even suicide are very real threats that offenders face. One offender in a therapy group that I facilitated was cited as violating parole during Operation Boo for having kids clothing in a suitcase deep in his home, which he claimed belonged to his wife who has children. This violates his parole and resulted in 30 days of jail time. Last year, a Napa County man hung himself with a bed sheet in his jail cell the day after he was arrested for possession of a knife during a Halloween sweep.

Lest any parents claim that these costs are worth bearing for the possibility of saving even one child, the 2009 study in Sexual Abuse also found that child victimization rates “did not vary across years prior to and after [the registered sex offender] policies became popular.” In other words, the laws don't even make a dent in curbing the barely existent problem.

*The article orginially misreported that all registered sex offenders in certain Virginia districts are prohibited from participating in Halloween. Only registered sex offenders on probation are subject to the bans. 

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Why does reason hate children so?

  • Rich||

    prohibits registered child sex offenders from ... keeping their home lights on during the holiday celebrations.

    Apparently another very real threat that offenders face is falling down the stairs in the dark.

  • ||

    This will really cramp my style. Why did I move to Illinois, dammit?

  • ChrisO||

    From what I recall reading, most child molesters are related to their victims, and measures like this do nothing to curb that type of abuse.

  • Andrew S.||

    The stat is something like 95% (give or take a few percent) of molestations are by someone known to the kid (relative, coach, etc.). Stranger molestations are rare. Stranger abductions are incredibly rare.

  • LarryA||

    There have been a dozen "child molested" stories on local (San Antonio) news in the past several years, not involving family.

    As I remember, one perp was a cop, all the rest worked for a public school.

  • Almanian!||

    "There is zero evidence to support the idea that Halloween is a dangerous date for children in terms of child molestation."

    Because the laws are WORKING, people! Sheesh! How hard IS this?

  • Hyperion||

    Let's just burn the witches and get it over with. Just burn the houses down with them in it. Then you don't need to worry about them turning lights on. And it saves energy!

  • Rich||

    We're talking Illinois, not Michigan.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Just heard Ohio AG Mike the dickhead Dewine on the radio on the way home referring parents to the sex offender database so they can avoid those houses.

  • Unjustlyprosecuted||

    In Ft Bend County, Texas, sex offenders must report to the county fairgrounds for three hours. Lots of probation officers and police stand around and waste taxpayer money. In other counties, police drive by to make sure there are no lights on and the offenders are at home.

  • GILMORE||

    We all understand your ex-rapist life is tough.

  • RyanXXX||

    Yea, and everyone concerned about the NSA is actually just a terrorist

  • RyanXXX||

    Even if "unjustly" personally raped a whole class of kids, his point would still stand.

  • Unjustlyprosecuted||

    Not a rapist, just had nude stills of Natasha Kinski taken when she was 15 and 16 from the movies To the Devil a Daughter and Stay as You Are. Under Texas law, these are child pornography and make me a sex offender. As an adult I've never touched a child.

  • Valigator||

    Andrew Extein, a "voodoo" psychotherapist can throw his studies in the garbage can.. During this week alone the sweeps have netted "freaks" who are restricted from minors with candy and toys. They have netted firearms, they have confiscated Porn which is in direct violation of the terms and agreements of their release, and we arent talking one or two guys..we are talking hundreds who are in possession of objects that they know damn well they arent suppose to have. This has been a very intensive sweep in many states that have circumvented crimes these pathetic examples of DNA were planning and or in the process of committing. I wouldnt let those "low" level sex offender therapist determine when my dog needed walking, much less call the shots on what triggers these freaks. Obviously sex offender behavor studies in this arena havent graduated above throwing crap at the wall and watching to see what sticks or slithers down.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    Thanks for the gibberish!

  • AlmightyJB||

    Would be better with some caps and brackets tossed in.

  • General Butt Naked||

    All done in violation of the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 8th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

    Congratulations, your fears have turned you into a fascist.

  • Almanian!||

    cool story, bro.

    u mad?

  • The Heresiarch||

    What else floats on water?

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    A duck.

  • ||

    Very small rocks.

  • anon||

    AIRBOATS!

  • GILMORE||

    I resent this law infringing upon a holiday which is all about chicks dressing up as sluts, guys dressing up in silly costumes making them hard to identify, everyone getting drunk, and guys groping said chicks and making out with as many of them as possible.

    WHY OH WHY MUST THEY KILL THE SPIRIT OF THE HOLIDAY??

  • AlmightyJB||

    Don't forget the talcum powder and feather dusters.

  • GILMORE||

  • Ann N||

    I disagree with the basic premise of the article.

    child molesters should either be dead or have no rights.

    Letting them have their lights on every other day of the year should be seen as a privilege, instead of viewing banning their lights on halloween as a rights violation. in fact, them drawing breathe is a privilege far beyond their deserving. Its utter gall to bitch about lights on halloween. you raped a kid, feel free to kill yourself.

    then i wont care if your house light is on.

  • Metazoan||

    child molesters should either be dead or have no rights.

    Leaving aside whether that is ridiculous, sex offender != child molester/rapist. Understand?

  • General Butt Naked||

    Episiarch is right, these are the new witch hunts. For a while we forgot about the pedophiles and focused on terrorists, but that didn't give the mob enough fuel for the charyou tree, so we've gone back to the broadly defined "sex offenders".

  • anon||

    I didn't see Epi post in this thread, but then again, I've been a bit too busy to peruse the comments lately.

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    Sex offender registries include individuals who were charged with public urination (typically filed under indecent exposure), teenagers who send nude photos to their boyfriends (see the recent San Diego police article), and married couples who years before made the mistake of having underaged sex. And, like all government lists, once you're on it, it's virtually impossible to get off, as no bureaucrat has the incentive or means to remove a person from the registry.

    As with most cases, it comes down to who you trust more: the monopoly of violence that is the state or those whom it accused of crimes.

  • anon||

    I disagree with the basic premise of the article.

    What if we phrase it as such:

    Child molesters and Rapists shall be summarily executed if proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Hence, we won't need a "sex offender" label.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    I'd be OK with that, if modified for life in prison in lieu of execution.

  • kbolino||

    What is the practical difference between being the property of the state and dead?

  • Sigivald||

    At very, very, very least if we must have "registries" of "sex offenders", can we at least make various categories of them, and do so with an attempt at meaningfulness?

    That way "guy nabbed for indecent exposure pissing behind a bar at 2AM" doesn't have to be lumped in (see Ann N's comment immediately above) with "actual child rapists".

    "Sex offender" is too vague a category for any meaningful penalties or restrictions to be appropriate to the entire group, as it stands.

    And it's also a waste of time and money and effort; couldn't those cops at least be doing something useful rather than wasting time making sure someone whose "sex offense" had nothing to do with children at all isn't handing out candy?

    Even if we bought that child predators were especially predatory on Halloween, it'd make more sense to prohibit only them from doing that, and use limited enforcement resources on watching them, no?

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    At very, very, very least if we must have "registries" of "sex offenders", can we at least make various categories of them, and do so with an attempt at meaningfulness?

    That way "guy nabbed for indecent exposure pissing behind a bar at 2AM" doesn't have to be lumped in (see Ann N's comment immediately above) with "actual child rapists".

    The problem with this idea is that the state would be voluntarily limiting its control to fewer people. It's like asking DiFi to limit her gun-grabbing to convicted violent criminals: it's not in such a person's nature or interests to do so.

  • anon||

    At very, very, very least if we must have "registries" of "sex offenders", can we at least make various categories of them, and do so with an attempt at meaningfulness?

    No. Varying degrees might not allow the Almighty State to utilize the FYTW clause whenever it so chooses, and therefore would be a hindrance to Godly Justice.

  • Brian||

    We have to have lists! So we have to have the government!

    Why, if we didn't have the government, who would make the lists? Would that be an "official" list? Anyone could make a list, and then we'd have chaos!

    You may not know it, but you desperately need an official government list of all the boogeymen in your neighborhood, or else your children will be abducted, raped, tortured, and killed. Put that in your limited government pipe and smoke it.

    Now, go home, make sure your children don't come in contact with a sex offender, and send us 25-35% of your income, and 5-9% of your purchases. We'll take care of the list.

  • anon||

    I still don't see a point in even having sex offender laws. You do your crime, do the time (or, in most cases, a fine for pissing in public). Once you've either paid the fine or done your time the Government should not have control over your person any more.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Sex offenders are nithings, and nithings have no rights that persons are bound to respect.

  • anon||

    Read my reply below: Most "Sex offenders" have done nothing that you and I haven't done at least twice a year.

  • kbolino||

    Proportionality of response is not a concept in your universe, is it?

  • HellsBells||

    I would think we have sex offender laws mainly because true pedophiles (not the indecent exposure guy, the sexters, etc) suffer from urges they are purported to be unable to control. So this makes the likelihood of a repeat offense much higher and by that reasoning, necessitates the rules of behavior even after time served. But as for the rest of the poor schmucks lumped in due to a combo of bad timing and foresight- it's utterly ridiculous.

  • Plopper||

    Keep in mind most "true pedophiles", never actually hurt any children and never have and keep their desires under control. So you should really reword that "child rapist", but even still I disagree.

    If they are so dangerous they can't be trusted in society again then just don't let them out of prison in the first place. Otherwise if they've served their time they've served their time and they should be treated just as any other citizen.

    Also I could go on that most of the people labeled pedophiles aren't even pedophiles but really hebephiles or ephebophiles. The main thing I wish to correct here is the terrible use of terminology by people when it comes to this subject.

    Pedophile does not necessarily equal child rapist, and not everyone attracted to someone under the AoC is a pedophile, as pedophile means an attraction to the PRE-pubescent.

    Pedo = PRE-pube
    Hebe = entering/during pubescence
    Ephebo = nearing end of pubescence or totally finished with it as far as physical development goes.

    And just because someone is any of the above three does not necessarily make them a rapist.

    If a kid who hasn't even begun to start puberty yet gives you a boner, I'd say you are a "true pedophile", but you've no right to punish them unless they've actually raped someone.

    I could go on about AoC laws too, but that's an entire different subject/conversation.

  • Plopper||

    Actually, I'm somewhat unsure where to draw the line between Ephebophile and Teliophile, I guess at 20 it would be cease to be Ephebophilia unless like the person had some rare condition that caused them not to totally finish puberty until their 20s.

    Actually, that sort of sounds like me... hmm.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    All sex offenders need to be reounded uop and placed in internment camps.

    There is a piece of property at 5001 Highway 395, Independence, CA 93526 that would make an excellent site for an internment camp for sex offenders.

  • anon||

    All sex offenders need to be reounded uop and placed in internment camps.

    Most "Sex offenders" are labeled as such for pissing in public, etc.

    Very very very very few are actually child molesters/rapists.

  • kbolino||

    All sex offenders need to be reounded uop and placed in internment camps.

    We call them jails, and if you want to know why we don't keep recidivist child rapists there, you need to look at all the bullshit reasons we throw people in jail.

  • anon||

    OT: Fuck, I just googled up something about pressure/heat correlation (basically "does a bowl actually heat up when the lid is removed after microwaving") and it came up with "pressure cooker bombs."

    See ya'll in the camps.

  • ||

    Watch out for "libertarians" offering you one-way plane tickets to Yemen.

  • Ketogenic Paleo||

    The streets are now safe from people who got caught peeing in public and exchanging sex for money.

  • Plopper||

    But not from me! Buahahahaha!

    I wish I could go trick or treating as a child molester, but I'm not sure what kind of costume would work for that.

    Also, some crazy person like Ann N might knife me in the back. So it's probably a bad idea anyway.

    It's just the public moral panic about the supposed pandemic of child rapists seems far more scary than any vampire, werewolf or other monster.

  • Bean Counter||

    TO DRESS UP AS A CHILD MOLESTER:
    Black Pants
    Black Shirt with white collar (reversed)
    Prayer beads with a crucifix.
    Bottle of Holy Water

  • Plopper||

    Hah!

  • dd09999||

    I am related to someone who is a therapist and in law enforcement. Most sex crimes go unreported. Perps will film children walking up to their doors for pornographic use. They also use the occasion to build rapport with their victims. They are simply not around children year around, even their own without proper supervision and with court order. All these guys were given due process. Most continue to deny they have an issue. So this story is short sighted.

  • Plopper||

    So they are filming people coming to their house, and they jack off to it?

    *gasp* The Horror!

  • kbolino||

    All these guys were given due process.

    It was my understanding that most plead guilty because "due process" is a joke prosecutors tell to amuse each other.

    Of the small minority of registered sex offenders that constitute genuine threats to children at large, why are they not still in prison?

    If you're no longer in prison, you're no longer the state's property and you don't have to ask permission to live.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement