Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ignorance, paranoia over phony Halloween sex-offender 'threat' more frightening than ghosts and goblins

I wrote last week that I expected more media hype surrounding the phony-baloney non-threat of registered sex offenders assaulting trick-or-treaters on Halloween, and sure enough the stories are rolling in like the tide. Just looking at recent Texas examples, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Perhaps most startlingly, in El Paso a TV station reports that law enforcement is so enamored of the prohibition of Halloween decorations, they're considering similar rules for Christmas! (To stave off the rampant assaults of carolers, perhaps?)

In this sense, Stephen Colbert's "March to Keep Fear Alive" this weekend in D.C. is incredibly well timed.

OTOH, at least a few folks out there are beginning to counter these absurd memes. In the Wall Street Journal today, Lenore Skenazy, who blogs at Free-Range Kids, has an excellent column titled "'Stranger Danger' and the Decline of Halloween" (found via the blog Sex Offender Issues) in which she offers the insightful observation that "Halloween is the day when America market-tests parental paranoia. If a new fear flies on Halloween, it's probably going to catch on the rest of the year, too."

Another on-point remark: "Halloween taught marketers that parents are willing to be warned about anything, no matter how preposterous, and then they're willing to be sold whatever solutions the market can come up with." No kidding! Skenazy's column concludes with these excellent observations:
And now comes the latest Halloween terror: Across the country, cities and states are passing waves of laws preventing registered sex offenders from leaving their homes—or sometimes even turning on their lights—on Halloween.

The reason? Same old same old: safety. As a panel of "experts" on the "Today" show warned viewers recently: Don't let your children trick-or-treat without you "any earlier than [age] 13, because people put on masks, they put on disguises, and there are still people who do bad things."

Perhaps there are. But Elizabeth Letourneau, an associate professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, studied crime statistics from 30 states and found, "There is zero evidence to support the idea that Halloween is a dangerous date for children in terms of child molestation."

In fact, she says, "We almost called this paper, 'Halloween: The Safest Day of the Year,' because it was just so incredibly rare to see anything happen on that day."

Why is it so safe? Because despite our mounting fears and apoplectic media, it is still the day that many of us, of all ages, go outside. We knock on doors. We meet each other. And all that giving and taking and trick-or-treating is building the very thing that keeps us safe: community.

We can kill off Halloween, or we can accept that it isn't dangerous and give it back to the kids. Then maybe we can start giving them back the rest of their childhoods, too.
In the nation's entire history, there's only been one instance - in Wisconsin in 1973 - where a child was abducted and molested while trick or treating: The perpetrator (who murdered the youth)  had no prior criminal record so even if sex-offender registries had existed back then, he wouldn't have been on the list. Indeed, targeting registered sex offenders arguably ignores far greater risks: Grits mentioned on Monday "a 2008 study [which] found 'that over 95% of all sexual offense arrests were committed by first-time sex offenders, casting doubt on the ability of laws that target repeat offenders to meaningfully reduce sexual offending.'" Another recent study found Halloween may be the "safest day of the year" as it pertains to sex offenses against children because, according to one of the researchers, "it was just so incredibly rare to see anything happen on that day."

Urban planning theorist Jane Jacobs, one of my personal intellectual heroes, persuasively argued that encouraging greater density and pedestrian traffic in cities does more to reduce crime than all the cops you could throw at the problem because, as her obituary in the New York Times put it, "Whether neighbors or strangers, people are safer because they are almost never alone."  That's exactly why Halloween is the "safest day of the year" regarding sex crimes against children, and all the hype to the contrary harms children more than it helps them.


Anonymous said...

Its good that someone is letting us know

'that over 95% of all sexual offense arrests were committed by first-time sex offenders...'

The LSOTP types will try to tell you that sex offenders often have more than one victim. They also claim that the victim was victimized many times over a period of months or years.

They also claim that some sex offenders target young children and are prone to repeat their pattern of offending.

Don said...

LSOTP is a lucrative business. They make a lot of money from this paranoia. I'm a counselor who once considered becoming one of them. But sleazy fear-mongering just wasn't my cup of tea. So glad!

Anonymous said...

Election time and Halloween, perfect for stirring up fearmongering and hatred of all sex offenders. And with this legislative session right around the corner, we will be dealing with more ignorance as elected officials compete to see who can come up with another "good" idea to increase "public safety" by adding more restrictions to "all" sex offenders.

The growing number of sex offenders and "tougher" laws and restrictions have created several industries; a growing need for sex offender group and individual treatment, cognitive education classes, anger management classes, evaluations, assessments, polygraphs, gps monitoring, etc. The fact is the 19 year old who had sex with his 15 year old is put through all of these things and often forced to remain in treatment for duration of probation regardless of the need. Treatment providers claim its the CSCD's requiring this, but overtreatment is overtreatment and should be considered unethical, however its more money in the LSOTP's pocket so to hell with ethics.

For the above industries to thrive, fearmongering is a necessary evil.

Anonymous said...

HOW do I keep my kids safe from a murderer, a dwi offender, a drug dealer. Oh my, I can't, there is no registry for these people. I think I will just go with my kids trick or treating. NOw that is an idea.

Anonymous said...

Kids have a much greater chance of getting hit by a car than being approached or nabbed by a "sex offender". With over 63,000 people listed on the Texas registry, the lawmakers should ask themselves "how long before the registered people and their families vote the fear-mongerers out of office"?

Anonymous said...

My son is on that list for consensual sex. He was the second young man filed on for having sex with the same young lady. I am sooo ready for the families of all 63,000 people on the list to get together and vote people like tricky ricky out of office. Tricky Ricky, if you read this understand I am working harder than ever to see to it that you are gone, out of there. You are a disgrace to Texans and you have never done anything for anyone I know. You are too focused on yourself and your friends. I can't wait until you are OUT of Texas politics for good. You would not know a high risk sex offender if they were to sit in your lap. Hell, you may be a offender. Maybe your wife is younger than you are, maybe you had sex in high school with a younger girlfriend. How mamy people did?

Anonymous said...

"With over 63,000 people listed on the Texas registry, the lawmakers should ask themselves "how long before the registered people and their families vote the fear-mongerers out of office"?"

A long, long, long, long, long time, baby.

Anonymous said...

I hope you won't call me a fear-monger, but I think you're being a little cavilier in saying there is only one case of a child being molested while trick or treating.

This is from The Beaumont Enterprise dated Nov. 8, 2003:

"Deputies pick up man accused in abduction
A Beaumont man was in custody in Montgomery County Friday, charged with the Halloween kidnapping and sexual assault of a 12-year-old Beaumont boy.
Leroy Floyd, 23, was arrested Friday in New Caney by Montgomery County sheriff's deputies. He is being held on $365,000 bond pending his transfer back to Jefferson County.
The alleged assault occurred Oct. 31 while the child was out trick-or-treating near the 2600 block of Gladys Avenue."

Floyd later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison in the case.

I'm not trying to say that Halloween is any more dangerous than any other time of the year for children, but I hardly think you can say it's only happened once or even twice before.

Anonymous said...

I am not a sex offender and I don't have a family member who has to register. I am a parent.

I watched as a teenager from my neighborhood was arrested because he had sex with a girl who was a little more than 3years younger than he was. The girls parents asked the cops to drop the charges. They didn't

The boy's family have lived in the neighborhood for several years. It is killing the family knowing he will be rounded up and carried to a holding place during "trick or treat" hours this year. The family have been asked to not give out candy. How does this make us safer?

The mom said hes forced to take sex classes with people who have committed serious crimes against small children. He is exposed to their stories told he is just like them and they are all the bottom of the barrel. Halloween is another way of beating him down.

The boy is being treated for depression and his family worry about him taking his life. He asked his mom what was the point in living.

The system that is doing this to this teenager wants to tell me the registry is about protecting my kid?

I want to know who is going to protect my kid from the system.

Anonymous said...

Grits reads The Wall Street Journal? Do tell?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:02, fair enough, but was Floyd a registered sex offender at the time? If not, then none of these overhyped tactics would have helped the situation.

Anonymous said...

5:02 and grits, just looked and there is no leoy floyd on the texas sex offender registry

Anonymous said...


doran said...

Okay, what is LSOTP?

A Texas PO said...

Grits, I love your blog and it has opened my eyes to issues beyond the daily scope of my job. I see that there are plenty of policy-pushers in Austin and at the local level who pander to the 1% of fearful idiots that have been grabbing all of the attention from politicians, such as the Tea Party movement and the far-right "moral majority." But as a PO in Texas, I also see that sex offenders under supervision are at risk not just from themselves (and I know the blogosphere will try to hang me for saying that, but there are SOME offenders who are struggling to stay out of trouble, while the vast majority are so afraid of minor technical violations sending them to prison that they are nearly paralyzed when trying to make basic daily decisions), but also from the community at-large. A recent home-owners association meeting almost became a pitch-fork wielding mob when someone demanded that the HOA and city forcefully remove a registered sex offender from the neighborhood. Luckily cooler heads prevailed, but there were paranoid people standing outside this young man's house on Halloween last year to "keep an eye on him." My CSCD has a program like those mentioned in this blog (I will not name the county because I can't afford to lose my job) but we do not advertise it, we do not flaunt it publicly, and we do not even have a name for it. We have all of our sex offenders on probation meet at the sheriff's office on Halloween, supervised by a PO and a deputy, and they participate in a treatment group free of charge. This way, we know that they are safe and are not becoming victims of fearful mobs, and thus we know that they are not violating the conditions of probation, whether on purpose or by mistake. I know many readers of this blog will not like this idea, but it has worked for us, and keeps our local LEOs from having to go door to door "checking" on these folks. They are able to keep a watchful eye on trick-or-treaters, and conduct their normal patrols on this very busy night. Will attitudes change? I have no doubt that they will. Look how far we’ve come in other areas in the last 200 years. Anything is possible, but policy-pushers will always pander to the 1% on the whacky fringe who actually exercise their right to vote.

NotaSOmom said...

Boo....I am so scared it is the Return of the Sex Offenders. Whatever happened to worrying about razor blades in the apples? I am pretty sure that, that was a wise tale also.
Who is really protecting the children?.....Studies show that it is most likely the child’s own parent or friend of family who is who they need to be protected from. Neither of which would be on the registry yet or they would not be trick or treating with the kids or handing out candy from their house. Can you just picture Chester the molester opening the door and grabbing one of the goblins without complete hell breaking loose?
Wake up people this society has gone to hell in a hand basket but this is not a problem that parents should worry about. Trick or treat with your kids and try to have fun!
Parents should worry about their kids ending up on the registry or themselves God forbid you get caught peeing in public you will never get to have Halloween again!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:11, I found the story in the Enterprise archives here, though you're right it doesn't come up in a Google search.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Doran, LSOTP is a "Licensed Sex Offender Treatment Provider."

Texas PO, thanks for your thoughtful comments. Your points about SOs being "paralyzed when trying to make basic daily decisions" and the risks of vigilantism are well taken.

I'm curious: When did your agency begin its annual Halloween roundup? My impression is this has just become faddish in the last several years.

Anonymous said...

"The majority of sexual offenders are caught, convicted, and in prison."

Only a fraction of those who commit sexual assault are apprehended and convicted for their crimes.

Many women who are sexually assaulted by intimates, friends, or acquaintances do not report these crimes to police. Instead, victims are most likely to report being sexually assaulted when the assailant is a stranger, the victim is physically injured during the assault, or a weapon is involved in the commission of the crime.

A 1992 study estimated that only 12% of rapes were reported (Kilpatrick, Edmunds, and Seymour, 1992). The National Crime Victimization Surveys conducted in 1994, 1995, and 1998 indicate that only 32% of sexual assaults against persons 12 or older were reported to law enforcement. (No current studies indicate the rate of reporting for child sexual assault, although it generally is assumed that these assaults are equally under-reported.) The low rate of reporting leads to the conclusion that the approximate 265,000 convicted sex offenders under the authority of corrections agencies in the United States (Greenfeld, 1997) represent less than 10% of all sex offenders living in communities nationwide.

Sharon said...

As the mom of a young man who chatted online with a teenager and never made any attempt to contact, I have lots of thoughts on this subject. First of all I'd like to point out that it isn't just at Halloween that we cannot have decorations. The first year my son was on probation, we were told we would have to close our front blinds if we wanted to have a Christmas tree in our living room. No decorations were to be visable from the street - that's for all holidays.
Secondly, the PO officer is correct in saying that it is the technical violations that do them in. My son went to prison for watching a porn movie while on probation. Now he's on parole and spends hours every week mapping out routes that he can drive safely because he's not allowed 500 feet within a school crossing zone, home or business day care, church, McDonalds, school, park - you name it, it's probably a child safety zone. Try finding a job with that barrier. This hysteria is crazy. Did he do something wrong? Yes. Is he a pedophile? Unequivocably NO. He gets to stay home on Halloween but either his PO or the local police will be by to make sure the house is dark and he's there. This whole system is so broken, I don't know if it CAN be fixed.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:53, what does that have to do with this post or any of the discussion in the comments? Those not caught won't be on the registry and won't be subject to Halloween restrictions, so how does that relate to anything being discussed here?

Lisa said...

Grits, you rock. I wish legislators would listen with their heads instead of their hearts. Laws must be proven to be effective. These laws are just insanity 101. Halloween? Come on! This is just a ploy to make the public continue to be scared of the monster hiding in the bushes ready to pounce on their children the moment they turn their heads. Absolutely crazy. Thanks, again, for telling it like it is. Wish we'd have had someone who ran for governor with your thoughtful insight!

Anonymous said...

This Halloween thing has gone too far. It's all over the news even! Where are the lawsuits? Where are the lawyers ready to get onto this? Where are the P.O.'s that will stand up and say it's wrong to "round em up"? I really don't get it - when there is so much evidence on the other side that are true FACTS, why aren't our legislators and town councils and such doing the right thing? Perplexing.

Anonymous said...


So many of the bloggers paint the picture of the one required to register as being a 19 year old who was caught with his 15 year girlfriend. There may be a few who suspect that this is not exactly factual or typical.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:17, here's another fact: By far the greater threat to kids being molested comes from family members and trusted family friends. By any measure, they're more likely to be molested when they get home from trick or treating than going door to door in costume.

Anonymous said...

That leroy floyd person was not on the registry when he was arrested in 2003.

Anonymous said...

If counseling and therapy were offered to families and children of abuse before prison would more families come forward to get the help?

A Texas PO said...

Grits, this practice started long before I knew what probation was, let alone became an officer. The CSCD that I work for has NEVER advertised this, however, the Sheriff, being an elected official, has recently jumped on the press release bandwagon. The program we have was initiated by the sex offender PO because she was noticing that many of her offenders were ending up with technical violations on Halloween through, mostly, no direct fault of their own. By having the report to the sheriff's office, we were able to cut down on manpower (officers could spend Halloween with their own children, rather than running around the county checking in on sex offenders on probation) and also provided a great opportunity to have all of the sex offenders, regardless of their treatment status, complete a unique treatment program, and the law enforcement representative could educate them on changes in laws, sex offender registry requirements, and city ordinances restricting their residence, travel, etc.

Anonymous said...

10:53, You are citing a study that was metadata'd off of Koss' study that has now been proven to be false. The 1992 study included answers that Koss 'believed' to be yes when in actuality the respondent replied "i don't know", or "No" and especially on the question of have you have had sex while intoxicated, if the victim answered "yes" Koss rated this as rape, thereby skewing the numbers for the 1 in 4/ 1 in 5 garbage.

Mental Health professionals have already debunked this study, yet the wymin's groups still spout it out. so sorry, "only 12% reported" is nonsense. I will agree that any rape is 1 too many, however I for one am tired of the man-hater society that has come into being due to misguided militant lesbians.

Anonymous said...

Misguided militant lesbians... You guys crack me up!

Hook Em Horns said...

Lisa said...
Grits, you rock. I wish legislators would listen with their heads instead of their hearts. Laws must be proven to be effective. These laws are just insanity 101. Halloween? Come on! This is just a ploy to make the public continue to be scared of the monster hiding in the bushes ready to pounce on their children the moment they turn their heads. Absolutely crazy. Thanks, again, for telling it like it is. Wish we'd have had someone who ran for governor with your thoughtful insight!

10/28/2010 12:31:00 PM
Lisa, you make some excellent points...EXCELLENT but you don't understand the centerpiece of the problem. Texas voters, by and large, are an uneducated bunch of fools* (I DIDN'T SAY ALL, JUST A LOT) who are fed this mantra of being TOUGH ON CRIME until it comes out there nostrils. The legislators in this state DONT listen, THEY DICTATE from a capital bent on keeping the SHEEPLE ignorant.

*Texas ranks near the bottom in H.S. graduates.

*Texas ranks near bottom in number of college graduates.

Texas lawmakers seem themselves as SAVING is and we LET THEM!

TxPO also said...

I also work in a county that does a "roundup" at Halloween time. We pay for group that night, and it takes the place of a group they would have had to normally do that week, per their court orders. We've done it for the last ten years or so. No news, no fanfare, no media hype. When asked, all our offenders claim to appreciate it. They, as pointed out earlier, do struggle with day to day decisions, and claim that knowing if something did happen they will not be accused simply for being a registered SO is worth it.

My comments actually speak to the people who claim their sons/family/friends are registered SO's for consensual sex with someone "a little more than three years". The problem you have lies not with the LEO's, but with your DA. We encounter this exact scenario more often than I would like where I work, but our DA actually uses his brain instead of his brawn, and reduces the charge to a non registerable offense. I think I can safely speak for most people, no one wants a sex offender registry full of 19 year old boys because of a 15 year old girlfriend. If your DA was doing his job, that would never have happened.

Thank you Grits. I may not always agree, but I do enjoy reading your blog.

rodmsith said...

Well i see we made it though another halloween and i still have not seen the FIRST REPORT of a child snatched or abused by someone on the sex offender registry duuring it. Any guesses on just HOW MUCH money and time has been wasted on stupidity like these roundups and checks!

rodsmith said...

guess the gangbangers figured the cops would be too busy watching the ex sex offenders and it was open season!

Family: Boy, 5, shot in head on Halloween, dies

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Family members say a 5-year-old boy has died after he was shot in the head by suspected gang members while showing off his Halloween costume in the backyard of his South Los Angeles home.

His grandfather William Shannon told the Los Angeles Times that Aaron Shannon Jr. died about 10 p.m. Monday night, hours after he was declared brain-dead by doctors at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Police and family members say the boy was proudly showing off his Spider-man costume Sunday afternoon when two suspected gang members opened fire from a nearby alley.

The boy's grandfather and uncle were grazed by bullets. The two suspected gang members fled and have since eluded capture.


Maybe if one of the kid's parent's or his grandfater had like the majority been a sex offender... they would have been watching their house and this poor child might still be alive

Anonymous said...

Okay, I know it was days ago, but I'm sitting here bored waiting for election results trickle in, so I looked back at this thread.

Anyway, I'm the one who posted about Leroy Floyd, and I wasn't trying to make a point one way or another about what registered sex offenders should be doing on Halloween.

I was merely protesting a statistic quoted in this entry:
"In the nation's entire history, there's only been one instance - in Wisconsin in 1973 - where a child was abducted and molested while trick or treating"

As a journalist, I have a rather tedious habit of caviling over the details.
What I wonder is where that stat came from anyway. How would you go about compiling that information?

Holden McGroin said...

"As a journalist, I have a rather tedious habit of caviling over the details. What I wonder is where that stat came from anyway?"

Well, as a journalist, you know that 89.95 per cent of all stats are made up on the spot; another 27.25 per cent are made up during editing.

Personally, I have discovered that you won't be bothered by those noisy trick-or-treaters if you just put up a sign that says, "Registered Sex Offender"
on your door.