Civil Liberties

And Who Will Check the Apples for Razors?


In Texas and several other states across the country, law enforcement officials are engaging in the annual pre-Halloween ritual of corraling and branding "sex offenders" to prevent them from molesting kids while handing out candy. The efforts include arrests (typically for violating registration requirements or residence restrictions), confinement to police stations during trick-or-treat hours, and mandatory posting of signs declaring the homes of sex offenders candy-free zones. In South Carolina, A.P. reports, registered sex offenders "cannot give out candy or have their outdoor lights on." New York goes further, decreeing that sex offenders "can't answer the door to trick-or-treaters, have Halloween candy in their possession or dress in costume" (italics added). When do sweets legally qualify as Halloween candy? Minis presumably are contraband, but what about fun size?

There is little rhyme or reason to this crackdown, which does not distinguish between registrants who have a history of sexually assaulting children and those who have never shown any inclination to do so. Furthermore, as Scott Henson notes at Grits for Breakfast, the sex offender roundup diverts police resources from more pressing concerns to address a hazard that is vanishingly unlikely to materialize:

Such programs are all about playing to the media, not public safety. 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….

By comparison, how many drunk drivers are out on Halloween? How much vandalism and other youth crime occurs that night while police attention is focused on tracking sex offenders?

They can say this is all about protecting children, but if authorities really wanted to protect kids they'd protect them from actual, demonstrable risks that occur in the real world.

Henson's advice to parents:

Let the kids go get some candy and have some fun, for heavens sake, and if you're worried what will happen, tag along. It's called "parenting."  

Jesse Walker noted Halloween hype about sex offenders back in 2006.