A number of states have passed laws to restrict the activity of known sex offenders during Halloween. The restrictions generally range from things such as “no passing out candy” to “no driving after dark.” The laws are meant primarily to protect children from threat as they go about their fun on Halloween night, but critics believe these laws may be an unconstitutional infringement on an individual’s fundamental rights. The city of Orange may even toss out a law requiring registered sex offenders to post a sign in the front of their homes in order to discourage trick-or-treaters.
Care to make sure children are kept safe from registered or paroled sex offenders has grown in recent years. A sheriff will tell parents to check the online sex offender registry before going out with their kids to trick-or-treat. Some places have adopted “trunk-or-treat” events, wherein acquainted groups of people give away candy out of the trunks of their cars, for kids to easily get Halloween candy without any possibility of danger. In New York, a law prohibits sex offenders from wearing masks or costumes or answering their doors on Halloween.
In the city of Orange, registered sex offenders are required by law to post a sign on Halloween that reads “No candy or treats at this residence.” In addition, the law specifies that the sign be no smaller than 12 by 24 inches. Those found in violation may face a $1,000 fine or up to a year of jail time.
However, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of a “John Doe” alleging that the law violates 1st Amendment rights or registered sex offenders and puts them, as well as anyone who may live with them, at risk of harm.
“If you think about it, a lot of older kids go out to trick rather than treat,” said Janice Bellucci, an attorney and president of the California Reform Sex Offender Laws group, “All you have to do is look for the house with the sign.” Those who agree with Bellucci argue that instead of protecting the residents of the city, the law may be doing more harm than good.
They also claim that Halloween is not necessarily the time to worry about sex offenders. Research has shown no evidence of increased child abuse on Halloween and no evidence that any child was ever a victim of sexual abuse by a stranger while trick-or-treating. Government data shows that the majority of sex crimes against children are not committed by strangers but by family members or close acquaintances. Protesters argue that these laws only increase fear and anxiety without actually protecting anyone.
However, a county executive argues in favor of the law, saying Halloween is, “a unique situation where children are literally showing up at the doors of sex offenders.” Regardless, parents are reminded of common safety tips: walk with your child as they trick-or-treat, always keep them in sight, and don’t let them go to any houses without lights.