Halloween is a scary night, which, after all, is half the thrill of the trick-or-treat holiday. But for anxious parents, Halloween and the thought of their kids being at risk for predators can be the stuff of nightmares.
Many parents worry that Halloween, with eager children ringing a stranger’s doorbell in search of treats, creates a perfect opportunity for a predators. Some fearful parents may forego unsupervised trick-or-treating altogether and walk their neighborhood with their kids on Halloween night to make sure they’re safe. And others may decide the dangers outweigh the fun and decide to keep their kids at home altogether.
But the good news is many states and jurisdictions have already taken action to help protect the public. Law enforcement agencies throughout the country advise parents to check their state’s public sex offender registry before Halloween night. Parents can also use sites like FamilyWatchdog.us to see who — and what — live nearby.
Some places like Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas prohibit registered sex offenders from passing out Halloween candy. In California, “Operation Boo” prohibits sex offender parolees from putting up Halloween decorations, opening their doors to trick-or-treaters, or venturing out of their homes from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. on Halloween. Other places require sex offenders to remain at local police stations during prime trick-or-treating hours on Halloween night.
In Virginia, the Department of Corrections is conducting “Operation Porch Lights Out” for the 14th year. Registered sex offenders who have committed crimes against minors and are currently under probation or parole must keep their porch lights off and not give out candy.
“They have certain guidelines that they’re supposed to follow as well. All that’s maintained on the state police’s website and it’s readily available,” said Cpl. T.B. Scearce of the Danville Police Dept.
But, the registry can only show known and registered sex offenders. Parents need to remain vigilant. “It’s the one’s that we don’t know about. So plan your trip, know your neighborhood, know where your sending your children,” said Scearce.
It’s worth noting that a study (How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters?: An Analysis of Child Sex Crime Rates) analyzed nine years of data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) and found, “no significant increase in risk for non-familial child sexual abuse on or just prior to Halloween.”
“We do not suggest that there is no risk on Halloween or that anecdotal accounts of Halloween molestations should be dismissed,” wrote the study’s authors.
Dr. Meg Kaplan, a New York City psychologist, advises parents concerned about Halloween sex offenders to accompany their kids on candy gathering rounds and to educate them about inappropriate behavior that dangerous adults might display, like asking children not to tell parents about interactions.
“Adults shouldn’t have secrets with children,” Kaplan said. “Talk to your children about who to trust and who not to trust.”