The intent of this article is to raise awareness of child safety, so that parents and community can work together to make Halloween safe and enjoyable for everyone.

How do we, as parents, family and community members, keep our kids safe from pedophile and other predators on Halloween?

Laws restricting sex offenders from gaining access to children on Halloween, and passing out candy at their homes have been implemented across the United States. However, these laws are controversial–many attempts to prohibit sex offenders from handing out candy have been overturned as “unconstitutional” or are actively involved in intense court battles. Still many states are restricting convicted sex offenders from gaining access to children on Halloween and have tried various methods to do so: arresting fugitive offenders, doing compliance or home checks on paroled offenders, making mandatory meetings on Halloween, requiring offenders to post a sign outside thier home that says “no candy” and restricting offenders from displaying outside lights/decorations and passing out candy are some of the measures implemented.

Convicted sex offenders released back into society pose a real risk–Halloween is an especially vulnerable time for children to fall prey. Children can be victimized by pedophiles on Halloween very easily–it is a holiday where it is acceptable to wear costumes, and remain anonymous in public. It is a holiday celebrated in the night. It is a holiday where children are out in the srteets or attending public celebrations later than usual, some children are not chaperoned by adults at these events. Many celebrations are noisy, and full of distraction. It’s acceptable to scare someone on Halloween, and invited at times. And children are coming to the doors of strangers asking for candy–they are easily trusting those who reward them with candy. Not only could a sex offender attack but could also begin the process of “grooming” the child, preparing them for later victimization by becoming friendly to the child and gaining their trust (often through manipulation, tricks and other deception).

It is absolutely vital that adults take steps to keep their children safe, and teach their children safety tips, on Halloween–these skills can also be utilized in everyday situations.

On a broader scale, as a community, we need laws to keep children safe, and to reduce the risk that pedophiles will prey on our children during Halloween, and others times of the year/other situations. Individuals, parents, community groups working together with law enforcement can make a positive change in keeping children safe, while maintaining our sense of community.

Court Cases Involving Halloween Restrictions Include:

2008, Missouri: the Supreme Court ruled 4-3 to that a law prohibiting sex offenders from having no contact with children on Halloween, that they must turn the lights off at their residence and post a sign stating “no candy or treats at this residence” is unconstitutional. The Court found parts of the law “too vague” and stated the law can only apply to offenders convicted after 2008–meaning this law would not apply to older convictions (which is concerning because certain offenses, like kidnapping and murder, or repeat offenses, should not be exempted even if the conviction is old if they still present a real danger to society, and to our children).

2010, Orange, California: The city of Orange passed ordinances making it illegal for sex offenders to decorate their home for Halloween, to leave on outdoor lights on Halloween or to pass out candy. Registered offenders must also post a note stating they will not pass out candy. The law is targeted to offenders who have committed crimes against minors, and is a companion law to a 2008 ordinance that restricts how many sex offenders can live in a hotel, and prohibits offenders from loitering in places where children gather. The penalty for violating the law is up to $1,000 or a year in jail.
The city of Orange is now being sued due to these ordinances, the lawsuit is led by a group called California Reform Sex Offender Laws, who states that signs posted outside the homes of offender create a risk the offenders will be harmed or targeted for attack.

2012, Simi Valley California: Five sex offenders and their families are suing the city of Simi Valley for limiting their right to “free speech” by placing limitations on the way convicted sex offenders participate in public trick-or-treating. Simi Valley’s city ordinances require that convicted sex offenders cannot display Halloween decorations on the outside of their home, they have to turn off all exterior lighting. Released offenders on the Megan’s Law website (guilty of serious crimes) must post a sign that says “no candy or treats at this residence”. Supporters claim this ordinance is overly strict and claim that no offender has committed any sexual offense on Halloween night –then again maybe that is because of these ordinances??

Supporters of the convicted offenders have offered the following arguments in support of overturning these laws: these laws infringe on “free speech”, that the families (and children) of convicted offenders are unfairly punished, and that these laws invite attacks on offenders. Still others say that convicted offenders are not likely to molest a trick-or-treater–but who wants to take that risk?

Other Programs Targeting Sex Offenders on Halloween Include:

2010, Maryland: The Maryland Division of Parole and Probation (DPP) monitors certain sex offenders more closely around Halloween (including doing home visits), and reminds them to stay away from children’s Halloween activities. Offenders are also sent a reminder letter, and an orange pumpkin to post outside their home that says “no candy”. Offenders also have to turn off all exterior lights on Halloween, and remain in their home from 6 pm until the morning. 43% of sexual assaults occur between 6 pm and midnight. Anyone who is non-compliant could face penalties.

2011, Birmingham, Alabama: The Russell County Sheriff’s Department offered a program for sex offenders to come to the county courthouse in Phenix City for a mandatory meeting on Halloween night. The meeting was mandatory for paroled offenders, meaning they could be arrested if they did not show up. The meeting is voluntary for the county’s other 115 registered offenders, who pay $20 a quarter to register as an offender, and $20 or one quarter be waived if they attend the meeting. The meeting starts at 6 pm and is expected to last 3 hours, if the meeting runs short, a movie may be showed instead.
All offenders in Alabama were required to attend similar programs, which offered educational classes, training on employment and “community support topics”. The date/time of the meeting was chosen to coincide with trick-or-treating, a reduce the number of offenders who may come into contact with children.

2012, Clark and Washoe Counties, Nevada: Law enforcement agencies partnered over 3 days to implement “Operation Trick No Treat” to arrest fugitive sex offenders and do compliance checks on others. This is not a one time operation, these officers work year round in a strategic plan to protect our communities by joining forces with various agencies.

Law enforcement is working hard, parents and community organizations must also work together to keep children safe.

Halloween Safety Tips:

Use your local Sex Offender Registry/Offender Watch or other notification program to see what houses to avoid on Halloween. Or alternately, to avoid sending your child as a babysitter, to a party or other event.

Pay attention to what you child is wearing as a costume. Take time to talk with your child about the costume, to shop with them and encourage a fun–but appropriate– costume. Some Halloween costumes are just disgusting–I saw an online posting about a 16 year old girl who wanted to dress like a 70’s porn star, there are pedophile costumes (I saw one man dressed as a priest with a doll clinging to his leg), low cut and revealing costumes and worse..
I’m NOT saying anyone deserves to be mistreated but allowing your child to dress provocatively, and to disrespect themselves with a nasty Halloween costume (or other clothing) sets the child up for failure. Allowing your child to dress any kind of way, to run the streets or being overly permission can lead to trouble on many levels for that child–may impair their quality of life.
When a parent takes the time to instill values in a child, to teach discernment, that child is learning important lessons about safety, self-esteem and has an important role model (Mom, Dad, etc) to look up to.
If your child is attending a Halloween party in a private home or unfamiliar place, make an effort to get to know the parents/organization hosting the event. Introduce yourself to the parents of other children attending the event, and listen to their feedback. Or chaperone the event yourself.

Maintain firm rules about curfew, drinking, safety and other relevant issues–be consistent with the discipline and be sure to praise your child when they follow the rules.

Children should only trick or treat in groups, with a trusted adult(s) present.

Give your children glo sticks, flash lights or reflectors so you can see them better, and be able to keep an eye on them. You may also consider having the child to carry a cell phone to contact you, or dial 911 in case of an emergency.

Only trick or trick in houses that are well lit, and in neighborhoods you are familiar with.

Avoid house with poor exterior lighting, dark areas like shrubs or trees or ditches.

Avoid houses with poor walkways–crumbling concrete, obstructions, garbage in the yard, dimly lit paths, etc.

If you have a bad feeling, follow your instinct.

Never enter a home of a stranger when trick or treating. Ask an adult before entering any home.

Teach children to scream for help if someone tries to grab them or if they feel unsafe.

Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Website (Includes National Sex Offender Quick Search): http://www.nsopw.gov/

Megan’s Law Internet Site (Facts about sex offenders, How to protect yourself/family, Victim resources, Sex Offender public web site and more): http://www.meganslaw.ca.gov/

How to Protect Yourself and Your Family (Tips for Parents on how to protect and educate children against sexual abuse): http://www.meganslaw.ca.gov/protect.aspx?lang=ENGLISH

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) (Information, Hotline, State Resources and More): http://www.rainn.org/

Resources:

“Alabama to Round Up Sex Offenders on Halloween” by AP. 10/27/2011: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-20126599/alabama-to-round-up-sex-offenders-on-halloween/

“California Sex Offenders Fighting Halloween Ban” by Alyssa Newcomb, 10/3/2012. ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/US/california-sex-offenders-fighting-halloween-ban/story?id=17386757

“City of Orange Sued Over Sex Offender Halloween Restrictions” by Stephanie Case, 9/19/2013. KTLA 5: http://ktla.com/2013/09/19/city-of-orange-sued-over-sex-offender-halloween-restrictions/#axzz2fuC5xglF

“Citywide: Sex Offenders Banned from Halloween Activities” by Eugene W. Fields, 2/23/2010. The Orange County Register: http://orange.freedomblogging.com/2010/02/23/citywide-sex-offenders-banned-from-halloween-activities/12305/

Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Website (Includes National Sex Offender Quick Search): http://www.nsopw.gov/

“Halloween Rules Only Apply to Offenders Convicted After 2008” by Erin Hevern, 10/27/2010. Southeast Missourian: http://www.semissourian.com/story/1675894.html

Megan’s Law Internet Site (Facts about sex offenders, How to protect yourself/family, Victim resources, Sex Offender public web site and more): http://www.meganslaw.ca.gov/

“Operation Trick-or-Treat VI – Keeping Kids Safe from Sex Offenders” a release by the US Marshal Service, 10/30/2012. http://www.usmarshals.gov/news/chron/2012/103012.htm

“Sex Offenders and Halloween– They Don’t Mix” by Peter Hermann, 10/29/2010. The Baltimore Sun: http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/crime/blog/2010/10/sex_offenders_and_halloween_th.html

“Sex Offenders Attend Meeting Halloween Night” by Tom Smith, 11/29/2011. TimesDaily.com: http://www.timesdaily.com/archives/article_dea5ef15-1d53-5209-aef3-ed9c7a7e20c3.html