Every year around Halloween time, Patch, the news website specializing in local coverage around the country, publishes maps that show where sex offenders live. Patch claims this is some kind of public service, even though a thorough study of 67,000 cases of child molestation found zero increase in sex crimes against children on Halloween.
The vast majority of crimes against children are not committed by strangers, but by people close to the kids. Stranger danger is actually pointing worried parents in the wrong direction.
What's more, sex offenders are not especially likely to go after kids on Halloween. Contrary to popular belief, "across the board the majority of sexual offenders do not go on to reoffend," says Jill Levenson, a professor of social work who has studied Halloween crimes.
In other words, Patch publishes a list of people who have served their time and are extremely unlikely to offend again, in order to make parents terrified that the people at those addresses are out to hurt their kids.
This year is no exception. Here's a typical Patch piece, headlined: "Fairfield 2018 Sex Offender Addresses To Be Aware Of On Halloween." The article continues: "Find out where the registered sex offenders are living in Fairfield before the kids go out trick-or-treating. … You may want to avoid trick-or-treating at these houses and apartments on Halloween, or merely be aware of who's living in your neighborhood during the rest of the year."
Why? Why find this out, considering the facts above?
Last year, the National Association for Rational Sex Offense Laws' had had enough with this approach, and wrote a letter to Patch imploring the company to stop publicizing sex offenders' addresses. The letter, which Patch ran, suggested printing a map of all the places children have been harmed or abducted on Halloween by someone on the registry over the past 20 years. "Such a map would display no dots because exhaustive research has turned up not so much as a single case," wrote NARSOL's board.
That's right: There is no recorded case of a trick or treater molested by someone on the registry either before or after localities started forbidding registrants from turning on their lights or answering the door on Halloween. The rules and the warnings made no difference, just as forbidding kids from trick or treating at homes where there are pet rabbits, or ficus trees, would make no difference. The kids are perfectly safe.
Patch responded last year with a piece subtitled, "This is why Patch publishes local sex offender maps." It was by Dennis Robaugh, a top editor of the company.
This was Robaugh's rationale: A child was raped and murdered by a man named Gerald Turner in Wisconsin on Halloween in 1973. "We publish sex offender maps because people deserve to know whether they live near someone like Turner," wrote Robaugh.
But the maps do not let people know if they are living near someone like Turner. Not every sex offender is a child-murdering rapist. In fact, very few of them are.
Robaugh adds: "Statistics and research may show children are at no greater risk of falling victim to pedophiles on Halloween than any other time of the year, but that doesn't mean children are not vulnerable."
Forget statistics. Patch prefers to stick with hysteria.