It is almost Halloween, and as we begin to feel a chill in the air, we also feel the excitement of that annual ritual of trick or treating. But while children look forward to a night of ghouls, ghosts, goblins and goodies, parents ponder the presence of real-life demons in the neighborhood: registered sex offenders. States, municipalities, and parole departments have adopted policies banning known sex offenders from Halloween activities (or, in some jurisdictions, from even leaving their homes on Halloween), based on the concern that they pose an increased risk to children on this day. But is this belief correct? In 2009, Chaffin, Levenson, Letourneau, & Stern, 2009 set out to test this assumption.
Using national incident-based reporting system (NIBRS) crime report data from 1997 through 2005, these researchers examined 67,045 non-familial sex crimes against children age 12 and younger. Halloween rates were compared to expectations based on time, seasonality and weekday periodicity. There were no significant increases in sex crimes on or around Halloween, and Halloween incidents did not demonstrate unusual case characteristics. Findings did not vary in the years prior to and after these policies became popular. If these policies were to have an effect on overall Halloween victimization, we would expect that the rates of offenses on Halloween would show a greater decline over time relative to the rates for other days. In order to test whether there may have been greater reductions in sex offense rates on Halloween relative to other days over the nine-year span, a year-by-Halloween interaction term was added to the model. No statistically significant differences were found.
Lest some critics suggest that by pointing out the limitations of these laws I am demonstrating a lack of concern for the safety of children, I'd argue that we are all on the same side. We all want to live in safer communities. Most sex offenders will ultimately be returned to the community, and when they do, it behooves us to facilitate re-integrative strategies that rely on empirical research to inform community protection.