Tricks-Not-Treats: Halloween Predator Panic Laws
Derek W. Logue
October 15, 2008, Revised Oct. 16, 2011

INTRODUCTION

I remember coming home from “trick-or-treating” as a child and turning over my bag of candy to my mother for
inspection. After all, one of our neighbors could have slipped rat poison in our Tootsie Rolls or razor blades in our
apples. Aside from certain choice pieces missing as a result of mom’s ingestion... er, “inspection” process, my
mother never found any razor blades or rat poison in our Halloween Candy. Despite virtually no confirmed cases of
Halloween poisonings, the myth has remained a constant in our culture [1].
In recent years, a new Halloween myth has emerged – the “sexual predator.” Similar to the poisoning myth, the
Halloween sexual predator myth involves panic over a virtually non-existent threat and the typical corresponding
response to the perceived threat. The first appearance of a Halloween restriction in the news was Virginia's
"Operation Trick No Treat," a law requiring so-called high-risk registrants must report to their parole offices between
4:30 and 8 p.m. on Halloween, where many undergo treatment [
2].  In 2008, CNN reported a number of states (Incl.
CA, MD, SC, TN, TX, VA, and WI) are passing laws restricting sex offender activities during Halloween. A typical
Halloween law aimed at sex offenders includes some or all of the following restrictions (below are the TN laws):

1.        Do not answer the door to trick-or-treaters
2.        No passing out of candy to children
3.        No holiday decorations on homes
4.        No visits to haunted houses, corn mazes, hay rides or other seasonal activities
5.        Do not attend any party where children are gathered
6.        No costumes
7.        No trick-or-treating [
3]

Maryland has taken this law a step further, requiring Former Sex Offenders to place signs on their doors saying “No
Candy at This Residence [
4].” Louisiana passed a law barring Former Sex Offenders from wearing masks at
carnivals and Halloween [
5]. Missouri forces Former Sex Offenders to stay indoors, turn off all their lights, and have
no contact with children [
6]. While some of these restrictions are limited to those on supervision (probation/ parole),
in some areas, like Missouri [6] and in Tulare County, CA [
7], this law applies to all registrants regardless of status,
with compliance checks sometime accompanying the no participation rules.
These laws beg the question, “Are these laws effective or even necessary?” Certainly there are a lot of concerns
with the law.

Halloween Laws Based on FEAR not FACT

The common mantra of proponents of sex offender laws is “it will make things safer/ protect children.” However, a
simple
Yahoo or Google search on “Kids Molested During Halloween” will turn up no cases of such a case
happening, an experiment emulated by others with similar results [
8]. A Live Science article describes the panic
quite perfectly:

While children's safety is important, the concern far outweighs the real danger. There is no reason to think that sex
offenders pose any more of a threat to children on Halloween than at any other time.
In fact, there has not been a
single case of any child being molested by a convicted sex offender while trick-or-treating.
These measures are popular and well-intentioned—but ultimately ineffective—publicity stunts offered by police and
politicians to placate parents. They provide a false sense of security, since there is no evidence that the policies
actually make children any safer. Any opportunistic sexual predators who would attack children will simply wait until
the next day.
Ironically, a group of children dressed in costume at a sex offender's doorway are probably safer than at many other
places they could be, including their own homes.
This is because, contrary to popular belief, most released sex
offenders do not re-offend, and because most attacks on children occur in their own home by someone they
know.
Furthermore, the simple logistics of trick-or-treating make an assault very unlikely. A sex offender would have
great difficultly molesting a child who is in costume, outside his or her front door, and in front of other
people and witnesses.
Of course, the knowledge that such an attack has never happened and is very unlikely to ever occur won't
calm the hysterical concern
[9].”

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel offers the only recorded incident of any child raped and killed while out trick-or-
treating. In 1973, a nine-year-old was killed by Gerald Turner, known as the “Halloween Killer.” Because of Turner,
Wisconsin residents hold trick-or-treating during daytime hours [
10]. However, the f/k/a Harvard Law Blog found two
interesting things regarding the Turner case:

  1. The 9 year old girl was trick-or-treating alone and went to the house of a stranger, and
  2. Turner had no prior criminal record, so if such a law existed in 1973, the Halloween sex offender laws
    would not have applied to Turner. Thus, to date there is STILL no recorded incident of a child
    molested or killed by a convicted sex offender on Halloween. [11]

The Predator Panic surrounding Halloween and sex offenders can be called “Halloweenitis.” Below is the eAdvocate
definition of Halloweenitis:

"Halloween-itis is a coined term used to describe a mental abnormality often occurring in public servants and
politically aspiring persons who can pass this psychological disorder onto others,
generally occurring around
holidays and elections. The disease is characterized by abnormal delusional visions of perceived horrific
events creating an aura of public fear;
these doomsayers get their rewards by painting a picture of "the sky is
falling" and alienating the public. Significant harm is caused by people so afflicted because the objects of their
obsession are persons which society already looks down on (including their family members), and the collateral
harm caused society is truly a tragedy.
Halloweenitis is a subset of offenderitis, and both are incurable social
diseases because these people refuse to face reality, or facts and statistics which prove them wrong, they
discount these facts and statistics because in their minds they only see horrific events in everyday life
circumstances
Those afflicted with Halloweenitis, fear based, focus on denial of civil rights of other persons under
the pretext of public safety
[12].”

In short, the laws are based far more on fear than in fact. There is only ONE documented case of a sex offense
occurring on Halloween, back in 1973, committed by someone with NO prior record. Meanwhile, there have been
more documented cases of foreign objects in Halloween candy. Thus, the laws are based strictly on Predator Panic
rather than truth.

Litigation Against Sex Offender Halloween Laws

A group of Former Offenders recently filed suit against Missouri’s Halloween laws for vagueness (including whether
they are allowed to dress their own children up in costumes), ex post facto violations, fails to provide guidelines to
prevent arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement, and makes offenders targets for vigilantism and pranks [
13].
Personally, this case reeks of the segregation days of the civil rights era. Halloween laws, coupled with residency
restrictions, reintroduce the segregation concept into our society. The trend is becoming painfully obvious as
comments are added to the aforementioned Washington Times article [4]:

This is absolutely despicable. What's next, a Red "A" for adulterers, the Star of David to label Jews, Crosses for
Christians? How about some kind of label for those who hate animals, those who don't recycle, or don't limit their
families to two children?


These laws have good intentions, but are not what Americans are supposed to embrace. Soon everyone who's had
a DWI will have a bumper sticker that says "my party is more important than your life," every divorcee will have a
sign that says "Unwilling to commit," etc., etc. until everyone is properly labeled for every mistake they've ever made
in their life. Then maybe we could establish towns for each category, so the good people don't have to be subjected
to the evils of the lesser ones around them. Then we will all be safe and happy, right? No, I didn't think so!


The facts of the Missouri case:

Charles Raynor is a registered sex offender in Audrain County pursuant to section 589.400(7) and 42 U.S.C.
section 16913 due to a 1990 conviction in the state of Washington for indecent liberties with a child younger than 14
years old. Missouri's legislature enacted section 589.426,7 effective in August 2008, imposing certain restrictions on
registered sex offenders' conduct on Halloween night. On Halloween, October 31, 2008, Mexico public safety
officers checked registered sex offenders' residences for compliance with section 589.426. When an officer arrived
at Raynor's registered address, the officer observed a woman passing out candy to children. She informed the
officer that Raynor was inside the house, but that they both believed he was in compliance with the statute because
he was not handing out candy. No sign was posted at the residence stating "No candy or treats at this address."
Raynor was charged with a class A misdemeanor for failure to comply with section 589.426.

Raynor argued the restriction violated ex post facto/ retroactive clause of Missouri law. The trial court agreed, ruling
in Raynor's favor. Ultimately the state appealed the case went to the Missouri Supreme Court (
State of Missouri v
Raynor
). The Missouri Supreme Court also found the law violated the state retroactivity clause and ruled in
Raynor's favor:

The new obligations and duties imposed on F.R. and Raynor are solely the result of their past criminal acts, and the
failure to perform these new duties and obligations carries a criminal penalty. The obligations and duties, imposed
after the fact of their criminal convictions and based solely on those prior convictions, violate F.R.'s and Raynor's
rights under article I, section 13... As applied to Raynor, the Halloween requirements of section 589.426 are
unconstitutional. The judgment of the trial court is affirmed [
14].

Are Halloween Laws even necessary?

There has been a lack of real Halloween danger stories in the media over the years. In fact, the biggest Halloween
sex crime-related crime in recent years involved the annual streaking event, the "Boulder Pumpkin Run:"

"
Now that the general election's over, let's get on to more important matters: Justice for the Pumpkin 12.
Recent University of Colorado graduate Eric Rasmussen, 23, is among the 12 runners ticketed Halloween
night for indecent exposure after running naked with a wobbly orange squash on their heads along the
Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. If convicted, he and 11 others could be required to register as sex offenders. Like
many of the Pumpkin 12, he is finding a lawyer... He and nine others go to Boulder County Court on Dec. 17; two
others will appear Jan. 12... In Boulder, the 10th annual Naked Pumpkin Run is a hot issue. The core question:
Should these 12 face punishment?
" [15]

The runners, known as the "Pumpkin 12" (the dirty pumpkin dozen?) were allowed to plea to lesser charges to avoid
registration as sex offenders [
16]. Wow, our children are so much safer now that we stopped those dangerous
pumpkin runners, right?

A study released by Mark Chaffin, Jill Levenson, Elizabeth Letourneau and Paul Stern in 2009 examined whether
fears of increased sexual abuse around Halloween justified the surge in Halloween laws. The researchers failed to
find any link between sexual abusive activity and Halloween:

"
This study found no significant increase in risk for nonfamilial child sexual abuse on or just prior to Halloween.
Although sex offenders may use seemingly innocent opportunities to engage children and sexually abuse and
therefore might be hypothesized to use trick-or-treat for ulterior purposes, this logic does not appear to translate
into any actual unusual rate of sex offenses on Halloween. The absence of a Halloween effect remained constant
over the 9-year period, beginning well before the current interest in Halloween sex offender policies and extending
to recent years. Any Halloween policies that have been adopted by reporting jurisdictions during that period appear
not to have affected the overall sex offense rate.

Halloween was also typical in terms of victim and offender characteristics, the types of child sex offenses reported,
and the categories of victim–offender relationships involved. As with all other days of the year, young children are
sexually victimized on Halloween. We do not suggest that there is no risk on Halloween or that anecdotal accounts
of Halloween molestations should be dismissed. Nor do we suggest that parents should abandon caution and
reasonable supervision of their children. But there does not appear to be need for alarm concerning sexual abuse
on these particular days. In short, Halloween appears to be just another autumn day where rates of sex crimes
against children are concerned. If anything, increased vigilance concerning risk should be directed to the summer
months in general, where regular seasonal increases in rates are readily seen...

In this case, worries and good intentions might have inspired advocates and lawmakers to propose legislation that
combats a nonexistent problem. The findings suggest that Halloween policies may in fact be targeting a new urban
myth similar to past myths warning of tainted treats. The results are consistent with observations offered by law
enforcement officials who do not describe any epidemic of trick-or-treaters being assaulted by known sex offenders
and who have observed no unusual rate of child sexual assault events on Halloween
[17]."

So if there is no increased sex crimes, could a Halloween law be credited for contributing to a non-event? The
Frederick County Sheriff's Office (Maryland) certainly believes the law was beneficial:

Teams of police officers and agents with the state Division of Parole and Probation stopped by 50 residences
Halloween night to ensure that area sex offenders weren't interacting with children collecting candy. They liked what
they found -- 47 of the offenders had "no candy" signs posted. As instructed, they weren't opening their doors.
Authorities are following up with the three others they couldn't locate Oct. 31. Those three could face sanctions, but
that hasn't been determined, said George V. Kirk, field supervisor of the Frederick field office of the Division of
Parole and Probation. Some might have been working; agents are checking the situations out...

"It makes me happy that I had no issues whatsoever," Robinson said of their five stops. "I made it very clear what
would be happening Halloween night. I reminded them we would be stopping by." The night before Halloween,
teams made preliminary visits to 57 homes. Those Robinson visited were extremely receptive. "I think they care very
much about what members of society think," she said. "They want to be better citizens and do what they need to be
doing to follow the law."

Rounding out the effort were Cpl. Greg Stocksdale and Detective Gene Alston from the Frederick Police
Department, and Detectives Michael Davies and Chris Smith from the Frederick County Sheriff's Office. Brandy
Shafer of the sheriff's office and Krissie Smith-Alvey of parole and probation provided organizational assistance.
Kirk found the initiative beneficial to the community. Having five additional police vehicles patrolling the streets is a
good thing. "Even if we can prevent one person from being victimized, the operation is worth it," Kirk said.
[18]

The prevention argument is anecdotal at best, as the type of crime that the law is trying to prevent is virtually non-
existent. There is, however, a major concern in areas where the laws are in place. While the following comment
seems anecdotal, there are real concerns of vigilantism as a result of being confused as a sex offender:

"And that pisses me off. I’ve been turning out my porch light and pretending I’m not home for years. And I’m no sex
offender, registered or otherwise. So now my problem is what do I do this year? If I turn out the lights, and don’t
answer the door, is that the same thing as advertising “sex offender here!!!!”?

One can’t ignore the damn holiday without possibly getting accused of being an offender. For years I’ve safely
ignored the holiday. Now, what will the neighbors think? Will they assume that the light is off because a sex offender
lives here? Or will they just think an old grump who doesn’t care for being annoyed on Halloween is here? I don’t
mind the old grump reputation -- I’ve earned it. But damn, that sex offender thing upsets me
." [19]

Conclusion

Halloween laws aimed at sex offenders are perhaps the most blatant of excesses in feel-good legislation. There is
no rational basis to pass these laws except to instill fear in the lives of constituents and garner votes. There has
never been a documented case of a convicted sex offender molesting or killing a child on Halloween. Furthermore,
the laws merely reinforce the segregationist movement and make former offenders who have served their time
targets of more harassment and vigilante violence. This final article sums up Halloweenitis quite nicely:

With Halloween now two weeks away, it’s time to start thinking about Halloween safety. OK, that’s an
understatement: if the local news programs are to be believed it’ time to start panicking. Poisoned Pixie Stix, needles-
stuck Snickers, and razor-wielding Raisinets lurk behind every Jack-o-lantern-guarded door.
Evil ne’er-do-wells
lurk ready to pluck your children off the streets and do unspeakable things to them.
The dead walk the earth
and seek to steal the the souls of the unwary.
I mock, but only because these myths of Halloween are so eminently mockable. As it happens, Halloween has
generated a host of safety myths, turning a once wholesome celebration of zombies, vampires, and other dead,
undead, and half-dead things into something rather more sinister. Let’s examine some of these myths…
There’s child molesters roaming free in my neighborhood! You might have looked at one of the scare-sites
(appropriate for Halloween, I suppose) that show you how many registered sex offenders live within spitting distance
of your house, maybe even mapped their addresses.
What you might not have known is how someone gets to
be on the sex offenders registry.
Many are folks who slept with their 15-year old girlfriends or boyfriends when
they were 16 — or even when they were 14 (some states prosecute underage sex regardless of the age of the
participants). Most, though, are in fact guilty of molesting children — almost always their own (or closely related).
There are very, very few cases (less than 5%) of children being accosted by strangers — the number of cases over
the last decade is in the hundreds, out of many thousands of child abuse cases…
The reality is that your children are fairly safe from victimization by your neighbors. Statistically speaking,
you and your family are the greatest threat your children face — far, far more dangerous than any stranger.

While it makes good sense to teach your children to be aware of themselves and their surroundings in the company
of strangers, the feverish panic that breaks out every year in the weeks before Halloween is way out of proportion to
the actual threat posed to your children…
So where does the panic come from? At least part of it has to be pinned on local news organizations and their
addiction to the scare story as a way to drive ratings… But the more important story lies in the anxieties we as a
society have fostered over the last several decades…
And along comes Halloween, and what do we do? We allow our children to go door to door among those strangers
and beg for candy. In anthropological terms, feeding someone and eating together are powerful markers of intimacy
and demonstrations of solidarity — but we aren’t intimate with our neighbors and there is no sense of solidarity. So
we worry. And one way we express those worries is by telling each other urban legends about the dangers of
strangers with candy, especially on Halloween. This may also be a defensive strategy, allowing us to ignore the fact
that the most real source of danger to our children is their own family.
So don’t panic. Take reasonable safety precautions — make sure your kids are visible in the dark, have
them carry flashlights, teach them traffic safety principles, supervise young trick-or-treaters, and don’t let
Halloween pranks get out of hand.
Don’t let these perfectly normal anxieties develop into irrational fears that end
up polluting Halloween for yourself and your children
[20].”

Resources

  1. Halloween Poisonings.” Snopes.com, October 27, 2005, http://www.snopes.com/horrors/poison/halloween.
    asp, Retrieved Oct. 16, 2011.
  2. Anahad O'Connor, "Sex Offenders See New Limits for Halloween." New York Times, Oct. 26, 2005. http:
    //www.nytimes.com/2005/10/26/nyregion/26offenders.html, Retrieved Oct. 16, 2011.
  3. “Sex Offenders Locked Down, in the dark for Halloween.” CNN, Oct. 31, 2007, http://edition.cnn.
    com/2007/US/10/31/halloween.offenders/, Retrieved Oct. 16, 2011
  4. Tom LoBianco, “Pumpkin symbol marks sex offenders’ homes.” Washington Times, Oct. 15, 2008, http:
    //www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/oct/15/pumpkin-marks-sex-offenders-homes/, Retrieved Oct. 16, 2011.
  5. AP, “Nearly 500 Louisiana laws take effect today.” The Daily Advertiser, August 15, 2008, http://www.
    theadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080815/NEWS01/808150328/1002, Retrieved Oct. 15, 2008
  6. Michelle Sherwood, “New Law Targets Sex Offenders on Halloween.” KSPR News, Oct. 9, 2008, http://www.
    kspr.com/news/local/30660589.html?corder=reverse, Retrieved Oct. 15, 2008
  7. See http://www.flickr.com/photos/37087288@N06/5079146239/, Retrieved Oct. 16, 2011.
  8. Scare tactics not just for kids on Halloween.” Grits For Breakfast, October 31, 2006, http:
    //gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2006/10/scare-tactics-not-just-for-kids-on.html, Retrieved Oct. 15, 2008
  9. Benjamin Radford, “Halloween Hysteria: Phantom Fears and Sex Offenders.” Live Science.com, Oct. 30,
    2007, http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/071030-halloween-hysteria.html, Retrieved Oct. 15, 2008
  10. John Diedrich, “No trick-or-treat for state’s sex offenders.” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Oct. 27, 2005, http:
    //www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=366284&format=print, Retrieved Oct. 15, 2008
  11. David Giacolone, “Halloween tricks: pols vs. sex offenders.” f/k/a, October 30, 2005, http://blogs.law.
    harvard.edu/ethicalesq/2005/10/30/halloween-tricks-pols-vs-sex-offenders/, Retrieved Oct. 15, 2008
  12. The Confusing Words and Phrases in the realm of sex offenders: with many being used in a libelous
    or slanderous manner!” News and Noteworthy (E-Advocate), 2007, http://www.geocities.com/eoped/def-001.
    html#hal, Retrieved Oct. 15, 2008.
  13. Robert Patrick, “Sex offenders challenge law banning them from Halloween activities.” St. Louis Post-
    Dispatch, Oct. 8, 2008, http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.
    nsf/stlouiscitycounty/story/E930958E0A4A95EE862574DC0013B442?OpenDocument, Retrieved Oct 15,
    2008.
  14. State of Missouri v. Charles A. Raynor, SC90164 (Jan. 12, 2010), http://www.courts.mo.gov/file.jsp?
    id=36535, Retrieved Oct. 16, 2011. Briefs arguing on both sides of the issue can be found at http://www.
    courts.mo.gov/SUP/index.nsf/0/338fa172c7382e51862576550068c16b?OpenDocument, Retrieved Oct. 16,
    2011.
  15. Julie Poppen, "Sex charge worries streaker in Boulder Pumpkin Run." Rocky Mountain News, November
    7, 2008. http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2008/nov/07/sex-charge-worries-streaker/, Retrieved Oct.
    16, 2011.
  16. Stephanie Simon, "Boulder's Naked Halloween Streak May Be Coming to an End." Wall Street Journal, Oct.
    31, 2009. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125693458626119361.html, Retrieved Oct. 16, 2011.
  17. Mark Chaffin, Jill Levenson, Elizabeth Letourneau and Paul Stern. "How safe are trick-or-treaters? An
    analysis on sex crime rates on Halloween." Sex Abuse 2009; 21; 363. http://sax.sagepub.
    com/content/21/3/363.abstract, Retrieved Oct. 16, 2011.
  18. Kate Leckie, "Halloween checks find most offenders in compliance." Frederick (MD) News-Post,  Nov. 8,
    2008. http://www.wtop.com/?nid=25&sid=1513550, Retrieved Oct. 16, 2011
  19. CLS, "We're all sex offenders now-- Happy Halloween." Classically Liberal, Oct. 28, 2008. http:
    //freestudents.blogspot.com/2008/10/we-are-all-sex-offenders-now-happy.html, Retrieved Oct. 16, 2011.
  20. Dustin Wax, “Don’t Panic! Stop Worrying and Enjoy Halloween.” Lifehack, Oct. 17, 2007, http://www.
    lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/dont-panic-stop-worrying-and-enjoy-halloween.html, Retrieved Oct. 16, 2011
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