Every year before Halloween, newspapers publish maps showing the location of registered sex offenders in various neighborhoods. The idea is to keep children safe from sexual abuse when they trick-or-treat. However, there is no evidence that children are at risk trick-or-treating at the residences of registered sex offenders.
This year, there may be little in the way of Halloween celebrations, but there are bound to be publications of these maps. There will also be restrictions placed on those on the registry, for example, prohibitions against decorating their houses or allowing trick-or-treating at all.
You may think these efforts to out registered sex offenders are reasonable. After all, they wouldn’t be on the registry if they hadn’t done something terrible, right?
Sex offender registries don’t protect children
It’s not true that you have to have sexually abused a child to be on the registry. The offenses that can get you on the registry include a wide range of behavior, often against other adults.
Sex offender registries are rife with errors. Sometimes, people who commit minor offenses like public urination are placed on the registries. Other times, the person is supposed to be on the registry for a limited period of time, but their name is never taken off.
The people who are most likely to hurt children are their relatives, family friends and others they know. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 93% of all child sex abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows well.
Sex offenders do not, in large part, abuse large numbers of children or on a repeat basis. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found in 2019 that less than 8% of those convicted of rape or sexual assault are rearrested for similar crimes within nine years. And, the annual risk they will offend again falls dramatically as the years pass.
Most sex offenders aren’t on the registry. That’s because a large majority — 86% — of those convicted of sex offenses had no previous convictions in this category of crime.
Kids aren’t in extra danger of sex abuse on Halloween. Several analyses by major advocacy groups have found that there is no significant increase in sex crimes around Halloween.
Sex offender outing can be dangerous
Publishing their addresses, prohibiting them from participating in the trick-or-treating ritual — these all serve to further stigmatize people who have already served their criminal sentences, along with their families.
This year, about 150 organizations have signed a petition asking newspapers not to publish the addresses of sex offenders before Halloween. They include journalists, activists and experts who believe in strong sex offense laws but don’t support recklessly outing sex offenders.