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Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse

Keyword: sex offender registration and notification

JackolanternIt’s that spooky time of year again. Halloween is a candy-fueled holiday children often look forward to celebrating. Many dress in costumes, trick-or-treat with friends and neighbors and carve pumpkins with their families. It can also be spooky for parents as sex offender hysteria grows in intensity with every news story about the dangers of convicted sex offenders harming children on Halloween night.

A study conducted by several child sexual abuse prevention researchers sets the record straight about what parents should be (and shouldn’t be) concerned about.

How Safe are Trick-or-Treaters? Experts Weigh In.

Many states require convicted sex offenders to attend education programs the night of Halloween. They can also be prohibited from leaving their homes or opening their doors. They can be banned from costume parties and not allowed to decorate their houses. The belief is that these policies keep convicted sex offenders from making contact with children. It’s also believed that sex offenders could use costumes to hide their identifies. However, law enforcement officials note that Halloween policies weren’t developed because of a large or growing number of abuse cases. This study, “How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters? An Analysis of Child Sex Crime Rates on Halloween,” looked at whether sex offenses, in fact, increase around Halloween and found no significant increase in risk for child sexual abuse.

Our Thoughts:

  • The idea that sex offenders are more likely to harm children on Halloween is simply unfounded. The data don’t prove it. Child sexual abuse is no more likely to occur on Halloween than on any other night.
  • The biggest thing to fear on Halloween night are drivers. Pedestrian accidents increase sharply around Halloween. Wearing reflective tape and accompanying young children are ways to prevent these accidents.
  • The best way to protect your children from child sexual abuse is through primary, prevention programs that are aimed at potential perpetrators and at improving the capability of adult guardians. Relying on children to keep themselves safe is the most typical but insufficient response to addressing child sexual abuse.

YouthLately, there have been a lot of news stories about kids committing “sex crimes.” In Pikesville, MD, a middle school boy was charged with assault for kissing a fellow student on a dare.  Another headline-grabbing news story was the North Carolina high school student who was charged with sexual exploitation for taking nude pictures… of himself.

A criminal justice response isn’t necessarily the best course of action to take with youth who have acted like the kids mentioned above, and besides, once a crime has been committed, the harm has already occurred. At the Moore Center, we know that the best way to end child sexual abuse is to prevent it through evidence-based, primary prevention programs aimed at potential perpetrators while also making parents and guardians better equipped to keep kids safe.

Below are some quick facts about youth charged with sex offenses.

  • Research suggests that about half of child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by juveniles under 18, and these offenses occur for a variety of reasons.
  • The efficacy of sex offender registration and notification policies is questionable. Of 14 recent studies examining policy effects on violent and/or sexual recidivism, 10 reported no significant effects, two reported reduced sexual and violent recidivism that may be attributable to policy effects and one reported an increase in sexual recidivism. (Sex Offender Registration and Notification Policy Increases Juvenile Plea Bargains. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment. 2012. Elizabeth J. Letourneau, et al. Sage Publishing).
  • We don’t yet know the consequences of placing youth offenders on the sex offender registry, but we’re currently researching this.
  • Preliminary findings suggest that registration and public notification polices may be associated with mental health problems and may disrupt school experiences and social relationships – all risk factors that increase the likelihood of future criminal activity.
  • Family members, including caregivers and siblings, may also face a range of collateral consequences including harassment and compassion fatigue.  

Once our research project studying the effects of placing youth offenders on the sex offender registry concludes, will have additional information to add to the list above.  In the meantime, see an interview with Dr. Ryan T. Shields, assistant scientist at the Moore Center, on Fox 45 Baltimore speaking about the criminal response to the Pikesville middle school boy’s assault charges.