Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Are sex offenders a Halloween threat?

Just last week, I wrote about a California district's controversial move to ban sex offenders from celebrating Halloween, but Tulare County is hardly alone. Police are gearing up for similar crackdowns across Tennessee and Virginia, where they officially refer to it as Operation Trick No Treat and Operation Porch Lights Out (for serious). "The purpose of the operation is to both protect and remove a high-risk population from the community during a time when ... children could be vulnerable," Larry Traylor, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Correction, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.


The problem with these polices is that they don't work, but they do contribute to heighten fear. As this article reports "No increased rate on or just before Halloween was found, and Halloween incidents did not evidence unusual case characteristics." That remained true even after policies restricting sex offenders' spooky decorating and treat-giving were instituted.

These policies perpetuate the myth of the stranger sex predators. Research has shown that the greater threat is from a member of the family or an acquaintance. Registered sex offenders are scape-goats. Additional harm results when a parent or guardian, trying to be vigilant,looks in the wrong direction for threats to their children.

And then there are some additional precautions to ensure a safe Halloween experience: (1) never let children step inside a resident; (2) an adult should always accompany children until they return home at the end of the night; and (3) nothing should be consumed until an adult has inspected it. If the item looks suspicious, it should be tossed in the garbage. But denying offenders the privilege of passing out candy does little to protect children, but does add to the fear unnecessarily.

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