Reason agrees: No red dots marking those on sex offense registry at Halloween

Originally published 10/1/2020 at Reason; reprinted in full here with permission.

By Jacob Sullum . . . Every year in the run-up to Halloween, Patch publishes maps showing the homes of “registered sex offenders” in various cities. Ostensibly, this information is aimed at helping parents who worry that their children might be molested while trick-or-treating. But research shows that such fears have no basis in reality, and these stories—like the warning signs and restrictions imposed by local police prior to Halloween—mainly serve to stigmatize people who have already completed their sentences, along with their spouses and children, who have committed no crimes at all. That stigma invites harassment, vandalism, and violence. Like much local journalism, the practice of publishing these maps is ill-informed sensationalism masquerading as a public service.

This fall a petition organized by the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (NARSOL) is urging Patch and other outlets to cut it out. Noting the “total lack of evidence that the publication of these addresses at Halloween keeps children safe,” the petition asks news organizations to “cease a hurtful publication practice that has no positive effect at all on child protection or public safety.”

The irrationality of that practice is clear once you understand a few basic facts:

1. Sex offender registries include a wide range of people, many of whom were not convicted of crimes against children.

2. Sex offenders stay on the registry long after they have completed their official punishment, even though they are less likely to commit new offenses of the same type than people convicted of other crimes. According to a 2019 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), less than 8 percent of people who had served sentences for rape or sexual assault were rearrested for a similar crime within nine years after they were released. That report also shows that the annual risk of recidivism falls dramatically over time.

3. The vast majority of sexually abused minors—93 percent, according to a 2000 BJS report—are assaulted by relatives, family friends, or other people they already know.

4. The vast majority of convicted sex offenders—86 percent, according to another BJS report—have no prior convictions for this category of crime, so they would not have shown up in registries.

5. There is no evidence that children face a higher risk of sexual assault on Halloween than they do the rest of the year. A 2009 analysis of 67,000 cases, reported in the journal Sexual Abuse, found “no increased rate on or just before Halloween.”

The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) amplifies that last point: “A heightened risk of being sexually abused is NOT one of the dangers children face at Halloween. The simple fact is that there are no significant increases in sex crimes on or around Halloween. There is no ‘Halloween effect.’ There is no change in the rate of sexual crimes by non-family members during Halloween. That was true both before and after communities enacted laws to restrict the activities of registrants during Halloween.”

In light of this evidence, the NARSOL petition argues, pre-Halloween stories showing the homes of people on the sex offender registry are gratuitous, unethical, and reckless. NARSOL adds that the focus on a nonexistent threat distracts attention from the main perpetrators of sex offenses against children, which are rarely committed by strangers, and from the main danger that kids face on Halloween: traffic accidents. The Washington Post reports that “children are three times more likely to be fatally injured by a car on the holiday, and the risk grows to 10 times for kids 4 to 8.”

The 150 or so signatories include ATSA, activists and journalists (including Reason contributor Lenore Skenazy) who support reform of sex offense laws, and an impressive list of professionals and academics. Among them are Elizabeth Letourneau, director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at Johns Hopkins University; Jill Levenson, a professor of social work at Barry University; Fred Berlin, director of the National Institute for the Study, Prevention, and Treatment of Sexual Trauma; Carleton University psychologist Karl Hanson; Arizona State law professor Ira Ellman; Southwestern Law School professor Catherine Carpenter; and University of Delaware sociologist Chrysanthi Leon.

Might these experts know more about this subject than the editors and writers who insist that parents should “find out where the registered sex offenders are living…before the kids go out trick-or-treating”? Perhaps Patch will consider the possibility.

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    • #76952 Reply
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      H n H

      Why does it seem as though all these articles just beat a dead horse while getting nowhere in changing these laws? I recently had to update my registration and couldn’t help but notice all the legal jargon… Pursuant to whatever #this.1. 2 and pursuant to whatever .2 followed by more threats of imprisonment, the entire thing is so bloated with gotchyas for violations…

      If they want a damn registry, have it private and any violations thereof to be levied by a fine for each occurance. But oh no, the fear of pedo rapists is too great. And everyone on the list is just that and nothing less. It’s sad, but I have a few more decades left and hopefully I’ll die and be done with this sham. THEN I’ll be free of the registry.

    • #77016 Reply
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      Facts should matter

      All that crap you’re made to sign and initial will be the size of a phone book soon! Especially with all the tinkering with SORNA.

      All this is done of course to cover THEIR behinds, not ours.

    • #77099 Reply
      Avatar
      Perry

      Vigilantes are not going to stop coming after Us, even when they know they’ll ‘Probably’ do Jail and or Prison Time. They all figure the Attorney they get will have the Judge they want, to let them off the hook for trying to Assassinate Us. They’re already seen as ‘Heroes’ insofar as The Media and Society as a whole goes. and that’s all BEFORE AND AFTER Halloween or any other Holiday! Even if the Person gets a Life sentence for killing one of Us and potentially other family members within the house just for being related to any of Us, that’s no consolation for those of Our People that survive…WE’RE STILL DEAD, and They’re treated like Heroes even inside Prison and Paroled ASAP. We need National and State legislators with BALLS that will introduce and pass Legislation to END THIS REGISTRY so that the ‘Norm’ for people to hunt and kill Us, won’t be one anymore!!!
      Done!

    • #77123 Reply
      Avatar
      Facts should matter

      @Perry

      This right here! We’re made to forfeit our actually privacy safety and security just so so STRANGER on the internet can garner a false sense of safety and security. That’s an insane amount of entitlement.

      Just the other day, Joe Biden at Gettysburg proclaimed, and I quote:

      “There’s no room for hate in America.”

      Wow Really? That sentiment is intellectually dishonest because there seems to be PLENTY of hate (not to mention scorn, animosity and resentment) for those forced to register.

    • #77285 Reply
      Avatar
      Dustin

      @ H n H:

      In response to: “It’s sad, but I have a few more decades left and hopefully I’ll die and be done with this sham. THEN I’ll be free of the registry.”

      Not if you live in Florida. Betting there are a fair number of dead registrants in other sates as well.

    • #77331 Reply
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      Will Bassler

      Someone needs to do their research a little better, check your statistics please.

      Let’s see what kind of hard data we can get out of this report: the total number of prisoners released was 401,288, of those 381,093 had not had a prior sexual conviction and 20,195 had a sexual conviction. We know that 7.7% or 1555 of the 20,195 with a prior sexual conviction were rearrested for another sex crime, but less than half of those were reconvicted which comes out to be 3.8% or 778. This gives you an average yearly re-offense rate, over the nine-year period, of 4/10 of one percent of 1% and that would be for the “worst of the worst” sexual offenders — rape and sexual assault offenders.

      Get the full information “a limited study done by the department of justice still proves that registrants have the lowest re-offense rate”

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