Three people on the sex offense registry in Georgia are suing the Butts County Sheriff’s Office for having deputies come to their homes and plant signs reading, “No trick-or-treat at this address! A community safety message from Butts County Sheriff Gary Long,” on their lawns. This was not only trespassing, say the plaintiffs, but also a form of compelled speech.
The signs also amount to fearmongering sanctioned — and spread — by the sheriff’s office.
Sheriff Long has stated that he will stop at nothing to ensure the safety of children in his town. This year, the town cancelled its Halloween event, so Long believes more kids than usual will be trick-or-treating.
Amen to keeping kids safe! But to do that, rather than placing signs on registrants’ lawns, the sheriff should be placing police at the busiest intersections on Halloween. This would make real safety sense because there is indeed an increase in kids getting hit by cars on Halloween. But there is zero increase in kids getting molested by registrants. A study done a few years back by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers looked at over 60,000 crime records from before and after localities started imposing Halloween sanctions like making people who’d committed sexual offenses turn off all their lights or go to the local precinct during prime trick-or-treating hours.
The researchers found no difference in the sex crime rate with or without the sanctions. That’s because it is a myth that registrants go wild on Halloween and molest trick-or-treaters. As Johns Hopkins professor Elizabeth Letourneau, director of Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, explained:
“Many states require convicted sex offenders to attend education programs the night of Halloween. They can also be prohibited from leaving their homes or opening their doors. They can be banned from costume parties and not allowed to decorate their houses. The belief is that these policies keep convicted sex offenders from making contact with children. It’s also believed that sex offenders could use costumes to hide their identities. However, law enforcement officials note that Halloween policies weren’t developed because of a large or growing number of abuse cases ...
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“The idea that sex offenders are more likely to harm children on Halloween is simply unfounded. The data don’t prove it. Child sexual abuse is no more likely to occur on Halloween than on any other night.”
In fact, the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws, or NARSOL, issued a challenge: Find ONE instance of a trick-or-treater harmed by a registrant on Halloween. As NARSOL spokeswoman Sandy Rozek has written:
“There are still, as far as exhaustive research can determine, zero cases of child molestation by someone on a sex offender registry in connection with trick-or-treat or Halloween, and that is both in the states that enforce restrictions and print warnings in every media source and those that do not.”
And so the signs on the lawns — and the other restrictions visited on registrants on Halloween, as well as the media’s obsession with the idea of predators pouncing on trick-or-treaters — are just virtue signaling on the part of Sheriff Long. Or maybe the term should be “vigilante signaling”: stirring up hate and fear and calling it a public service.