Sunday, October 21, 2012

IL - Myths of Halloween Danger Expand to Include Sex Offenders

Original Article

10/21/2012

Illinois Voices for Reform, Inc. seeks to counter popular myths of Halloween danger reported by local media outlets, points to research that shows no correlation between Halloween and sex offenses

It’s that time of year again – the days are getting shorter, the leaves are turning colors, homes are getting decorated for Halloween, and stories about where registered sex offenders live in your neighborhood are popping up in the media.

For the past few years, this has been a popular news topic, not only in Illinois but around the country. News sources have pounced on Halloween as an opportunity to post interactive maps on their websites showing where registered sex offenders live in their communities. These articles often highlight restrictions that registered sex offenders have on Halloween, including having their porch lights turned off and not being allowed to hand out candy. Patch.com, a New York based news organization with branches throughout Illinois, claims that it is “helping parents…keep their kids safe this Halloween by providing a map of the area's registered sex offenders” (from Oak Park-River Forest Patch, October 4, 2012).

Others, however, argue that the hype surrounding registered sex offenders at Halloween time is not only inaccurate, it could also divert resources away from the real dangers that kids face this time of year. Tonia Maloney, President and Founder of Illinois Voices for Reform, Inc., an Illinois-based advocacy group, says the whole thing is blown way out of proportion: “There is simply no evidence that the restriction of registered sex offenders from these types of activities reduces sexually based crime. Seriously, should law enforcement resources be taken away from legitimate dangers to monitor the whereabouts of thousands of registered offenders in the state on Halloween?

Maloney points to an article published in Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment in 2009, entitled “How Safe are Trick-or-Treaters?” The article examined sex offenses occurring outside the family around Halloween and concluded that there is no relationship between Halloween and any sort of increase in sex crimes. The article found that children are in much greater danger of being struck by a car or being harmed as the result of juvenile mischief than they are of being sexually assaulted. The authors also concluded that “the wide net cast by Halloween laws places some degree of burden on law enforcement officers whose time would otherwise be allocated to addressing more probable dangerous events.”

While scare tactics surrounding sex offenders at Halloween may be a relatively new phenomena, occurring mostly within the past decade, frightening parents at Halloween is an age-old tradition. In 1985, researchers at California State University examined what they described as Halloween Sadism, best exemplified by the “razor blade in the apple” story. They concluded that stories of Halloween Sadism are greatly exaggerated and are simply a form of urban legend. Where previous generations warned parents to check children’s candy for signs of tampering, today’s generation is warned to check the sex offender registry before sending children out to trick-or-treat.

No one is saying that parents should not be cautious on Halloween,” Maloney states. She concurs with researchers who argue that parents and law enforcement should focus on protecting children from dangers that evidence has shown is real and prevalent. “The chances of a kid being struck by a car are four times higher on Halloween than on any other night. The police should be making sure children are safe from cars and from bullies, rather than watching to make sure some sex offender has his porch light off,” says Maloney.

The authors of “How Safe are Trick-or-Treaters?” seem to agree, stating: “Nor do we suggest that parents should abandon caution and reasonable supervision of their children. But there does not appear to be need for alarm concerning sexual abuse on these particular days. In short, Halloween appears to be just another autumn day where rates of sex crimes against children are concerned.”

Current Illinois law prohibits sex offenders who are on parole or probation from participating in Halloween activities, including handing out candy to trick-or-treaters. A new law signed by the Governor this year goes into effect on January 1, 2013, that will extend these restrictions to most registered sex offenders in Illinois. Maloney, speaking on behalf of Illinois Voices for Reform, Inc., testified at congressional hearings opposing the new law. “Many sex offenders have families. Should the spouses and children also pay the price because their family member is on the registry? If a house is decorated for Halloween, has the lights on, and someone other than the offender wants to hand out candy, why should they not be allowed to? With their addresses highlighted on a publication’s website, whole families, especially the children, lose out on a traditional seasonal activity.”

Maloney notes that highlighting the addresses of sex offenders at Halloween not only puts the offender in danger of vigilantism or vandalism, but it also puts their family members in danger as well.