Halloween is the one night a year where bedtime rules and keeping sugar intake to a minimum fly out the window. It’s also the only night when kids are allowed to knock on the doors of potential strangers’ houses (even with a parent, guardian, or friend in tow).
Despite parental supervision, some states are taking extra precautionary measures to keep trick-or-treaters safe. According to FindLaw, 10 states have enacted “No Candy” laws that prevent registered sex offenders from passing out candy on Halloween. These states include Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas.
And, other states hold similar policies. For example, 2019 will be the 26th year of California’s Operation Boo project where corrections officers from the Division of Adult Parole Operations (DAPO) conduct safety checks on registered sex offenders. They must follow strict curfews and remain inside from 5 P.M. to 10 P.M. on Halloween, with all lights off, to keep children from ringing the doorbell. Offenders cannot display Halloween decorations, and may only open their doors to law enforcement if an officer comes to check.
New York’s version of the law is called Operation Halloween: Zero Tolerance. Parole officers go to sex offenders’ homes to ensure that they are not dressing up or decorating for Halloween. Again, offenders cannot pass out any candy, or even “have Halloween candy in their possession.”
All states follow some form of Megan’s Law, the federal policy in which all sex offenders must be registered, and their names be made available to the public. In that vein, some local news outlets will republish sex offender maps and directories close to Halloween. Patch, a hub for local news in neighborhoods across the U.S., recently sent out a map of sex offenders living in Bloomfield, New Jersey.
However, Patch was careful to note that New Jersey police want parents to utilize the map for their kids’ safety, not as a way to harass offenders. The website also included a statement from the National Association for Rational Sex Offense Laws (NARSOL), which stated, “Each year in the month prior to Halloween, articles warning parents about the danger posed at Halloween by persons who are on sex offender registries begin to appear…For almost as many years, the scientific and academic communities have scorned and protested this practice. The reason they do so is simple: There is no heightened danger posed to children by those on registries in regard to Halloween or Halloween activities.”
Sex offender registries also are not always accurate in terms of location. Some also argue that criteria for being placed on a sex offenders’ list is too lenient, and the resulting punishments too strict. For example, people who have publicly urinated, had consensual sex with a minor when they too were underage, or been caught streaking are on added to the registry of sex offenders. Their names appear alongside those of rapists, pedophiles, and distributors of child pornography.
Maia Christopher, executive director of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, agreed that “there is no ‘Halloween effect’” in regards to increased sex crimes on the holiday. In Fact, Christopher said, the only crimes that do increase once October 31st rolls around are vandalism, theft, assault, and burglary. According to JAMA Pediatrics, pedestrians are 43% more likely to die by being hit by a car on Halloween than any other night of the year. Most of the fatalities were children or young adults.
This Halloween, it’s important to stay alert, regardless of whether your neighborhood republishes a sex offenders’ map around the holiday, or if your state has laws banning sex offenders from passing out candy. The most practical takeaway is to make sure children have proper adult supervision, and that children know NOT to ring the doorbells of any darkened houses.