These Restrictions for Sex Offenders on Halloween Are Bizarre

Sex offenders and Halloween sound like an uncomfortable combination. Trick-or-treating at an offender's door feels dangerous to parents, and law enforcement officials in different cities and states have various approaches in how to handle the annual holiday.

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But empirical evidence conducted by experts suggests that child sex abuse and Halloween have nothing to do with one another.


Before a 2014 ACLU complaint, the Marshall Project reports that the Plaquemines Parish Sheriffs Office in Louisiana required all registered sex offenders post this sign on their front lawn on Halloween.

Instructions for registered offenders vary by state and locality. The Marshall Project reports that some parts of Virginia, Georgia, Delaware and Texas require offenders who are on probation or parole to report to a specific location.

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The Gaston County Sheriff’s Department in North Carolina directs offenders on parole to the local courthouse on trick-or-treat night.

“We keep [the offenders] in one big courtroom and call people in and out to do random drug testing and vehicle searches, and we have guest speakers,” Capt. Mike Radford told the Marshall Project.  “If they don’t show up, we pick them up and arrest them.”

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In parts of states such as Missouri, Florida and Nevada order offenders to post signs on front doors that say “No candy or treats at this residence.” 

But are these efforts making real changes for children who may become victims of sexual assault?

Is Halloween actually more dangerous for children?

Candy corn

A sex offender dressed up in a mask, handing out treats to little kids who come to their door sounds scary. But in June 2014, researchers published a study in the Federal Probation journal through the U.S. Federal Courts suggesting that the danger is imagined. 

“Although children approaching an offender’s door, as on Halloween, can appear to offer a prime opportunity for offending, this may in fact be a poor time to offend against a child, as child sexual offenses often occur in relative secrecy with no or very few others around,” the study reads.

“Conducting home visits of sex offenders on Halloween and prohibiting them from participation are grounded on these notions that, although well-intentioned, do not appear to be based on empirical support," the experts conclude.

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Jill Levenson, a clinical social worker and associate professor at Barry University, co-authored a study published in 2009 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's center for prevention against child abuse. The study examined more than 67,000 sex crimes against children under age 12 between 1997 and 2005. The findings suggest that law enforcement resources used to curb sex offenses on Halloween are attending "to a problem that does not appear to exist." 

Trick or treat

Finally, a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report published in 2000 shows that 93 percent of juvenile sexual abuse is carried out by someone the victim knows, with 49 percent of assaults on children under six perpetrated by a family member.

Only seven percent of victims were strangers to their assaulters. 

How can society curb juvenile sexual abuse?

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has several online resources that help parents, families and communities protect children from sexual abuse and identify unacceptable behavior in adults. The Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute also has information, including hotlines, help lines, early intervention techniques and support.

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Sex crimes against children are not okay, and steps need to be taken as a community to eliminate this ongoing problem in our society. But the research shows that spending time, money and effort to corral sex offenders on Halloween night isn’t an effective way to do it.