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Are Halloween Sex Offender Laws Unfair?

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on October 29, 2013 1:32 PM

Halloween is a festive time for communities to come together in costume and share candy. But with children's freedom to knock on strangers' doors comes heightened parental fears of sex offenders.

A number of states have Halloween sex offender laws in place to assuage parents' pedophilia concerns. But is the perceived heightened threat around Halloween actually credible, or are sex offenders the new bogeymen?

State Sex Offender Laws

Many cities and counties have enacted special Halloween sex offender laws that dictate what sex offenders are allowed to do and where they are allowed to be on Halloween.

The laws vary widely, but they typically order sex offenders to:

  • Keep their lights off on Beggar's Night,
  • Not wear a costume or mask,
  • Obey a curfew,
  • Refrain from giving out candy to trick-or-treaters or decorating their houses, and/or
  • Put up signs on their doors that say "No trick-or-treating at this residence."

In addition, transient sex offenders may have to spend the night at the local parole office.

California has been at the forefront of such laws. Under the state-run "Operation Boo," random check-ins verify sex offenders' compliance with Halloween regulations -- including dawn-to-dusk curfew and candy prohibitions -- or result in parole violation penalties including possible jail time.

However, a group called "California Reform Our Sex Offender Laws" successfully won a legal battle to repeal one local ordinance that forced offenders to place signs on their doors, reports The Huffington Post. Last year, the same organization barred the city of Simi Valley from enacting a similar Halloween ordinance.

Other states have followed suit, prompting many to re-examine the perceived need for such stringent rules.

Spooky Fear-Mongering?

The constitutionality of sex offender Halloween laws is being challenged in part because they continue to punish those who already paid their debt to society, but also because they create a fear that registered sexual offenders will reoffend -- a fear that some experts say is not based on any empirical data.

As a sociology professor wrote in The Huffington Post, "there has never been a recorded case of abuse or abduction by a registered sex offender on Halloween." Most must already comply with strict parole and registration requirements, and many are constantly tracked with GPS monitors.

Research shows no evidence of increased child sex abuse on Halloween and no evidence that a child was ever a victim of sexual abuse by a stranger while out trick-or-treating, reports HuffPo.

So while parents should rightly be concerned for their children on Halloween, there are greater risks to child safety than the risk posed by sex offenders. Just like any other day in the year, parents will want to keep a watchful eye on their kids.

Nevertheless, naysayers can rest assured that there are pre-emptive Halloween sex offender laws in place to protect their children. Whether their peace of mind is costing people their constitutional rights is another matter.

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