Halloween policies targeting sex offenders unnecessary, perpetuate new urban myth

Halloween “just another autumn day” where rates of sex crimes against children are concerned, according to Lynn professor's study

Published Oct. 16, 2009

Jill Levenson, a human services professor at Lynn University and a nationally-recognized expert on sexual abuse and sex offender legislation, recently co-authored an article that challenged the need for Halloween-related sex offender legislation. The piece first appeared in the July 2009 edition of Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment.

The study and article (“Halloween: How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters? An Analysis of Child Sex Crime”) addressed the recent laws banning known sex offenders from Halloween activities by states, municipalities and parole departments based on the concern that there is an increased threat to children on those days. The study found, however, that no such risk could be empirically proven.

Based on the National Incident-Base Reporting System crime report data from 1997 through 2005, the authors’ findings indicated that there was not an increased rate of nonfamilial sex crimes against children aged 12 years and under on or just after Halloween. In fact, findings were invariant across the years – both prior to and after the restrictive policies became popular.

“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,” said the authors.

Sex offender threat at Halloween a modern day “tainted candy” myth

These Halloween policies may actually be perpetuating a new urban myth – similar to those about Halloween that warned parents of tainted or poisoned candy, despite no verification that such incidents ever occurred. Now parents are urged to be wary of potential sexual predators handing out candy and to check their local sex offender registries to find the addresses of homes to be avoided. The authors acknowledged that parents should use sensible caution on Halloween and supervise their children, but noted that excessive worry about the risk of child sexual abuse on Halloween seems unwarranted.

The study concluded, “Halloween appears to be just another autumn day where rates of sex crimes against children are concerned."

The findings from this study indicated that sex crimes against children by nonfamily members account for 2 out of every 1,000 Halloween crimes, calling into question the justification for diverting law enforcement resources away from more prevalent public safety concerns.

“A particularly salient threat to children on Halloween comes from motor vehicle accidents,” said Levenson. “Children aged 5 to 14 years are four times more likely to be killed in a pedestrian–motor vehicle accident on Halloween than on any other day of the year.”