Sex Offenders: Fear vs. Fact on Halloween

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Photo by MM via Flickr

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.
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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.

derek logue

Derek W. Logue

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.

24 thoughts on “Sex Offenders: Fear vs. Fact on Halloween

  1. Thank you for easing my mind about allowing my children to ring doorbells of registered sex offenders. They hand out the best candy!

    • Let’s pay close attention to facts and stop with the fear mongering. This is especially directed at all you lovely, “Christ-like” Christians out there. Now then, repeat after me…“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…” Let that sink in. May as well just ban Halloween altogether since no one is a psychic and cannot say WHO will commit the next crime. Not to mention all the law enforcement officers I’ve been reading about lately who have committed sex offenses. Keep fear mongering. It apparently makes you all feel warm and fuzzy.

    • I thought it was a well written article with useful information. I look forward to you posting a link to the peer reviewed study on the candy.

      • Exactly right. The Oppression Lists (OLs) have never been about their lies of public safety or protecting children. The OLs exist to placate dumb, gossiping Karens and to pad the pockets of America’s carceral business, including the law enforcement criminals. THOSE grifters LOVE the OLs. What a gift to them! They can fleece so much all while lying about protecting children.

  2. The characterization that “Florida prohibits registrants” from doing those things, isn’t quite correct. Only those on state sex offender probation are prohibited. Those who’ve completed their probation are free to use common sense.

    Of course, as the article points out, none of these measures have anything to do with re-offending. They’re based on urban legend, as Jacob Sullum has pointed out, and give us a false sense of security on Halloween.

    • Not true, Duval County explicitly forbids those on the registry, regardless of being on probation or not, from participating in Halloween or ANY recognized holiday geared towards children, including Christmas or Easter. (Which is a clear violation of the first ammendment) They also can’t dress in any costumes with minors present. Clay County also enacted this same ridiculous law last year, same terms, though I’m unsure about the Christmas part. I find it hilarious these fear mongering types clutch their pearls over the possibility of a registrant giving out candy, but not those with other felonies. The known drug dealer in the neighborhood, convicted murderer on parole, the individual with DUI’s out driving the streets that night, or the known drug house around the corner. Totally fine obviously.

    • There are several counties and municipalities that prohibit those with past sexual offenses from participating in neighborhood treat-or-treat activities even after they are released from all sanctions. In Seminole county, for example, they cannot even put an uncarved pumpkin at their door.

    • I had more explicit legal details in the original article but it was edited for easier reading.

      As noted on my website:

      Florida – (Enacted 2010) Fla. Stat. § 947.1405 and Fla. Stat. § 948.30 both contain, among other conditions of supervision, “A prohibition on distributing candy or other items to children on Halloween; wearing a Santa Claus costume, or other costume to appeal to children, on or preceding Christmas; wearing an Easter Bunny costume, or other costume to appeal to children, on or preceding Easter; entertaining at children’s parties; or wearing a clown costume; without prior approval from the court.”

      (However, counties have their own rules, and many seem to apply these laws to all Registered persons. See https://www.news4jax.com/news/2020/10/22/still-trick-or-treating-this-year-check-your-route-for-sex-offenders/)

      Each county can adopt their own rules. Furthermore, there have been times that LEAs have LIED to non-supervision Registrants by claiming the law applies to them too. There is, unfortunately, a lot of ambiguity with these laws.

      • It’s very strange that there’s a sex offender who has never lived in Florida, except when jailed for eight counts of grand theft, who seems very concerned about the state. Obsession perhaps?

        • There’s a person who does not know me but is so obsessed with me that she is willing to make false allegations against me for speaking out against her. There is also a certain troll who likes to follow me around the internet, posting silly comments under various names of people I once knew. Obsession perhaps?

  3. I would add that if parents think trick-or-treating is so dangerous due to the presence of registered sex offenders, they should find another way to celebrate Halloween.

  4. Thanks, Derek, for speaking out on this issue. I have seen newscasters state ridiculous and hateful things about Registrants as Halloween approaches. Of course there are many other times and excuses to do so but Halloween seems to give them special permission to stir up fear and hate, totally disregarding the truth.

  5. Glad to finally read a good article on a touchy subject written by someone with real world experience and common sense. Most ‘journalists’ only regurgitate the same old stale myths that have been perpetuated for decades and never offer any real truths. Halloween is always the perfect opportunity for ignorant media and public officials to reignite those myths of stranger danger, and ‘protect the children’ from the predators on the registry. Hopefully soon the American Law Institute’s recommendations to abolish the public portion of the registry will become put into standard practice by law enforcement and judicial systems nationwide. Decades of research has shown the registries to be costly, ineffective and actually cause more harm than they prevent.

    • If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s that not every person on the registry IS a sex offender. I was once the person who checked it religiously. I didn’t want “them” on my street, in my neighborhood, city or state. I’ve learned that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be but some folks will pay for the entirety of their lives because of it. There is no recovery, rehabilitation or redemption allowed.

      There are folks labeled as offenders who ought not be… perhaps they “took a leak” behind a tree. In my much younger days, it wasn’t uncommon to just go off the back porch. Today,if you are unlucky, you could get 20 years for that.

      In my opinion, the registry actually causes further damage. It’s not a one size fits all kind of crime and it certainly refuses to allow a person to become a productive citizen in society.

  6. The ‘Brandi’s and Wendy’s’ of the World are just more ‘Lauren Books’ creating fear mongering instead of educating oneself relying on evidence based facts …….

    ‘An Educated Consumer, is Our Best Customer’..

  7. Thanks for the post.

    One of my local publications posted a fearmongering article today. I wasn’t able to comment directly on the post because they use Facebook comments, but I sent this to their editor:

    In reference to your article “Here’s How To Avoid Charlotte Sex Offenders on Halloween”, perpetuating the “stranger danger” myth is unbecoming of a publication of your caliber.

    Statistically speaking, most sex crimes against children (93%) are committed by people already close to the child; like relatives, teachers, coaches, etc…not strangers and not Registrants. In fact, Registrants have among the lowest possible recidivism rates of any crime. With one out of every 330 Americans on the Sex Offender Registry, you likely know someone with this designation and don’t even realize it. I certainly encourage parents to be vigilant and watch their kids, but this type of misleading fear mongering is responsible for the counter-productive Registry in the first place.

    I am on the Registry for a non-violent, non-contact offense. I have never and would never harm another person, much less a child. I served my time, rightfully so, and would like the opportunity to rebuild my life in a positive and constructive way. The Registry has elevated my punishment into essentially a life sentence with a plethora of complicated and conflicting rules determining where I can live, work, and play. (Not to mention the constant fear of vigilantism against myself and my property via the Government sponsored doxxing which you are now furthering.)

    In fact, I can’t even comment on your article because while Facebook welcomes accounts of murderers, arsonists, bank robbers, drug dealers, and even terrorists; those on the Registry for any reason are prohibited. This lack of social access doesn’t help anyone, but only further isolates people in my position from participating constructively in our communities and with our families, friends, and business associates.

    I’d like to respectfully ask that you do your research on this subject before continuing to spread the type of stereotype fostering information you have engaged in. We all want safe communities, but data shows it’s not Registrants who are causing problems on Halloween or any other day of the year. I’d prefer not to be treated like a leper for the rest of my life because I made a mistake that will never be repeated.
    Thank you.

  8. At a Halloween party, everyone will be wearing scary costumes so the children will feel safe on the lap of the one not wearing one. Residency restrictions forbid RSO from living near the school and the watchful eyes of teachers and parents. Instead RSO live on the outskirts of town where the nearby children wait alone at the desolate isolated bus stop, far from the watchful eyes of parents and teachers. Since RSO never live near a park, the children in the neighborhood play on the front lawn for the RSO to watch.

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