A Boston Herald article is calling for a new Massachusetts law to stop registered sex offenders from participating in Halloween. Such a law would violate the rights of sex offenders, for no public benefit whatsoever.
The piece—as random as a piece can be, in that it is not tied to any actual news, crime, or person of note—quotes an attorney named Wendy Murphy, who states, "Halloween is like Christmas for sex offenders." That's a catchy phrase, but she never explains exactly what she means. Do sex offenders get gifts on Halloween? Gifts of children?
"They know they'll have lots of access to kids and that they can't get in trouble even though they're required to stay away from children," Murphy says.
That is simply not true. Murphy is repeating an urban myth that sex offenders snatch trick or treaters. No evidence of such a phenomenon exists.
"There is not a single recorded case of a child being abducted or harmed by someone on the sex offender registry during trick-or-treat or other Halloween activities," says Sandy Rozek, communications director of NARSOL, an organization that advocates for saner sex offender laws. "And valid, reliable research shows no increase in sex crimes at all on Halloween."
The temptation on Halloween isn't to kidnap candy seekers, it's to use the image of innocent, endangered children to create new fears and restrictions. Consider my post from Monday about the counties in Virginia that have made it a crime for kids over the age of 12 to trick or treat at all.
We have a really hard time distinguishing between actual Halloween dangers—being hit by a car—and non-existent but creepily thrilling ones, like being stalked by demonic child rapists when the moon is full and the wolves are howling. And so, The Herald notes:
Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas all have "no candy" laws that ban sex offenders from handing out treats on Halloween.
In Florida, sex offenders out on parole cannot hand out candy or wear costumes on Halloween night.
Both California and New York have similar laws that allow police to perform unannounced visits to sex offenders' homes on Halloween night, Oct. 31.
Some states also ban offenders from corn mazes and haunted houses.
These laws are based on a mashup of fear, prejudice, and horror movies.
"Pushing for new laws aimed at keeping kids 'safe' from 'sex offenders' on Halloween is nonsense," says Emily Horowitz, a professor of sociology at St. Francis College and author of two books on sex offender laws. "There's no evidence any kid was ever harmed by someone with a past sex offense on Halloween, and almost all child sex offenses involve 1) non-strangers or 2) those not on sex offense registries. Those with prior sex offense convictions are always subject to more post-conviction laws and regulations than any other type of ex-offender, yet they have the lowest recidivism rates of almost any other type of offender."
Instead of keeping kids safer, articles like one in The Herald create kids who are fearful, fragile, and anxious because they are growing up in a world that treats them as constantly endangered.
"Parents read these articles and keep kids inside and sheltered and helicopter them because they fear something that literally has never happened—and articles like this have appeared in local and national media for years and years," says Horowitz. "The data is totally clear and conclusive: there are more than enough laws that punish those convicted of sex offenses (and all crimes!). What kids need is less anxiety, and the opportunity to have fun on the one night of the year when they can actually meet and engage with their neighbors."