Both Halloween and Election Day are coming. So, we’re not at all surprised that politicians across the nation are once again posing as Heroes in the fight against the Great Sex Offender Trick-or-Treat Bogeyman. Under the banner of protecting children, they’re restricting the actions of all sex offenders on Halloween, and sending out hordes of probation officers to make sure they stay in their homes (and, in some states, target themselves by posting “No Candy Here” signs), while expecting sheriff and police officials to monitor sex offender compliance on an already especially busy night.
follow-up (October 18, 2010): See the informative weblog piece by David Hess, The New Urban Myth—The Danger of Registered Sex Offenders at Halloween.
update (Oct. 16, 2008): See our post “Maryland Halloween Sign Targets Sex Offenders.”
We’ve covered this topic before at length here at f/k/a. See our 2005 piece “halloween tricks: pols vs. sex offenders,” and last year’s “hauntingly familiar,” pointing out that there has been no reported Halloween sex crime against trick-or-treaters in the United States (or Canada) since the infamous 1973 Fond du Lac Halloween Murder, when a person who had never been convicted of a sex crime victimized an unaccompanied 9-year-old girl. We’ve said it before:
Halloween Sex Bogeyman laws and restrictions have far too many costs, are far too likely to create a false sense of security among parents, and seem certain to have no real effects, other than giving grandstanding politicians a boost in the polls — and helping marauding bands of adolescent pranksters and more ominous vigilantes find unsympathetic targets.
So, it’s good to see that the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri is challenging a new Missouri law that, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says:
“convicted sex offenders must ‘avoid all Halloween-related contact with children’ by staying inside their homes from 5 to 10:30 p.m. ‘unless there is just cause to leave,’ such as a job or emergency.
“They also must keep outside lights off and post a sign that says ‘no candy or treats at this residence.
A violation of the law is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.
update (October 30, 2008): As Michael B. told us in a comment this afternoon, and according to the Associated Press, “Missouri’s sex offender/Halloween law is again enforceable” Ky3.com, Oct. 30, 2008): “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued a one-sentence stay on Thursday, sought by Gov. Matt Blunt and Nixon.” This means that, despite the injunction issued on Oct. 28th by the Federal District Court against two vague provisions in the law, registered sex offenders must remain inside their homes from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday unless they need to work or have a medical emergency, and may not participate in Halloween activities.
update (October 28, 2008): Yesterday, in the ACLU suit, U.S. District Judge Carol E. Jackson issued a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of the parts of the law that restrict the movement and behavior of registered sex offenders in three Missouri counties, because they are too vague and confusing to sex offenders and to those who would have to enforce the law. However, Judge Jackson would not block sections requiring sex offenders to leave their outdoor lighting off during evening hours and post a sign at their home stating “no candy or treats at this residence.” See “Judge: Parts of law restricting sex offenders on Halloween will not be enforced” (Southeast Missourian, Oct. 28, 2008); “Rules limiting sex offenders on Halloween blocked” (Associated Press, Oct. 28, 2008). As the SEMissourian reported:
“The first two sections of the law, those barring any registered sex offender from having any Halloween-related contact with children and instructing them to remain inside their home from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Oct. 31, should not be enforced.
. . . ” ‘Halloween is a big deal for children — we all know that. It could be very hurtful for a parent to have to tell their own child, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t take you trick or treating, and we can’t even have a Halloween party at home,’ Jackson said.”
The State’s lawyer, Chris Quinn, who later said the ruling would be appealed, repeated the lie that “Sex offenders pose a risk of reoffending that’s higher than anyone else,” during the hearing. I’m happy to see that the Eastern Missouri ACLU lawyer intends to keep pushing the broader arguments against the entire law, saying it is not only vague but unfair and unconstitutional additional punishment for people who have served their sentences. “Judge Blocks Rules Limiting Sex Offenders on Halloween” (New York Times, Oct. 28, 2008) I’m still wondering why there is no mention of this case on the ACLU of Eastern Missouri website.
Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, who added the two Halloween provisions to a broader sex offender bill, said he did it because a constituent suggested it. Here’s how the law is defended by Missouri police, per KOAM TV:
Sgt. Mike Watson from the Missouri State Highway Patrol explains why this new piece of legislation gives parents and kids a better piece of mind when they’re out and about:
“Just like any other activity at night, you want to keep your children safe,” Sgt. Watson says. “Now, obviously that means you want to keep your children close by knowing where they’re going and paying attention.
“I think part of the information – getting this out lets them know that if there’s a sign in the yard what that does mean.”
[Ed. note: We don’t know whether “giving piece of mind” is just an interesting homonym mistake, or a telling explanation for the law. For an articulate argument against such laws see the Comment by Mrs. K, a survivor of childhood sex abuse, at the 7-KHQA website. Meanwhile, a comment at the Sex Offender Issues blog wonders if we should restrict everyone with a DUI conviction to their homes on New Year’s Eve (St. Patrick’s Day, too).]
The ACLU lawsuit argues that the law is an arbitrary and overly-vague bit of ex-post-facto punishment. The Post-Dispatch reports, in “Sex offenders challenge Mo. law banning them from Halloween activities” (Oct. 8, 2008 ):
The ACLU legal director, Tony Rothert, said offenders can’t be sure of their status even with their own children or grandchildren. He said the terms “Halloween-related contact” and “avoid” and “just cause” are not clear.
The law could even endanger sex offenders, Rothert said, by requiring them to post signs that could make them targets.
“There’s already pranks on Halloween,” Rothert said. “If someone wants to harass you and cause you problems that night, you can’t even turn your lights on.”
A spokeswoman for Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt lives up to his surname, with this illuminating reaction to the ACLU suit:
“We’re not surprised that they’re now suing the governor to make it easier to victimize children.”
Gosh darn, Gov. Blunt, you really are a hero!
If you want to spend time and resources to target houses on Halloween, we suggest you support the efforts of Target House for kids with cancer, rather than joining the sex offender vigilantes or following Chubby on his merry rounds. And, if you are a parent who takes your responsibilities seriously, we strongly urge you to go with your children as they trick-or-treat this year — and don’t leave them alone with mom’s creepy boyfriend or any weird uncles, who are far more likely to molest them than are convicted sex offenders.
afterwords (Oct. 11, 2008): A fifteen year old girl in Newark, OH faces being labelled a “sex offender” — and therefore missing Halloween activities for years to come — for sending naked cellphone photos of herself (a minor) to other minors. See “Kids who photograph themselves naked are child pornographers and sex offenders in Ohio” (BoingBoing, October 10, 2008)
– by the way: We’ve done a couple dozen posts about restrictions on where sex offenders may reside, starting with this post, which has a list of links to related pieces –
goblins at the door
in the darkness behind them
a cigarette flares
the low, slow laughter
of a demon
i only tell the priest
………………… by ed markowski