It’s Halloween again. It’s my first Halloween since being released from prison. And until Monday, I didn’t really care. Seriously, I didn’t. I’ve never been a big fan of Halloween. It was always a pain-in-the-ass “holiday” where it’s socially permissible for kids I don’t know to bang on my door. Annoying. Go away. But if I don’t give them candy, I’m the asshole. And it wasn’t much better when I was a kid. I always felt like a mooch asking people I didn’t know to just give me candy. It was just one of those things I went and did just because it was the social convention. Blah. So as a grown-up and a father, when my wife offers to take our daughter trick-or-treating, I’ve always been totally fine with that. So as far as I’m concerned, I couldn’t possibly care less about Halloween.
However, that’s not how the fear-driven paranoid society we live in feels about Halloween, now that I’ve been branded as a “sex offender.” Halloween is now the “holiday” when it’s socially permissible for adults to go on television and online to scare other adults into being afraid of a problem that does not exist. The overwhelming fear is that, on Halloween, sex offenders prowl the streets looking for a victim to anonymously molest. And since that happens so often, we should all be horrifically afraid because this occurrence is so common, right? It happens multiple times every Halloween, doesn’t it? Aren’t there like dozens of kids every year who are molested by sex offenders while trick-or-treating? Because, with all the hype – with all the fear and media buzz – it would appear that it happens a lot.
But here’s the problem: It doesn’t. Actually, there has never – EVER – been a reported instance of a child being molested on Halloween by a sex offender. “Research shows no evidence of increased child sex abuse on Halloween and no evidence that a child was ever a victim of sexual abuse by a stranger while out trick-or-treating,” writes Emily Horowitz, Associate Professor of Sociology at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York. “This makes perfect sense,” she continues, “because government data shows the vast majority (about 93%) of sex crimes against children are not committed by strangers but by family members or acquaintances.”
So what is there to be afraid of on Halloween? Sure, it’s a “holiday” centered around fear and being scared and creepy things, all of which could easily be applied to sex offenders, but there simply isn’t any reality to support the level of fear being circulated by overzealous fear-driven paranoid parents and ratings-driven fear-mongering media. But we still need to be afraid of something, right?
How about this fictional situation:
Let’s say, between the years of 1990 and 2010, there were 115 children in the United States (under the age of 18) who were molested by a registered sex offender on Halloween Night. What would happen? I would venture to say that the reaction by the public, the media, and the legislature would be even more knee-jerk and reactionary. If, over a twenty-one year period, 115 children were molested by registered sex offenders on Halloween Night, sex offenders would be required to report to their local jail and remain locked-up until the next morning. Sex offenders wouldn’t be allowed to even be seen on Halloween, because, let’s face it, if over a twenty-one year span, 115 children were molested by sex offenders while trick-or-treating, there would be zero tolerance and no sex offender would be allowed anywhere near a bucket of candy on Halloween. Simply put, if, between 1990 and 2010, 115 children were molested on Halloween Night by a registered sex offender, I would understand the fear and the hype against sex offenders.
But here’s the thing: 115 children between 1990 and 2010 is a real Halloween statistic, according to a United States government research study. But those 115 children weren’t molested by sex offenders on Halloween; those 115 children were killed because they were hit by a car on Halloween. Between 1990 and 2010, 115 children were killed by people driving cars. Between 1990 and 2010, zero children were molested by sex offenders while trick-or-treating. Therefore, if you are driving your car on October 31st, you are more dangerous to a child than a sex offender. But for some reason, no one has thought to outlaw driving on Halloween. And yet, on Monday, I was told by my parole officer that I am not allowed to leave my house after dark, that I am not allowed to answer the door, and I am not allowed to have my porch light on. And why? Because nearly six years ago, I had a brief relationship with someone, whom I knew personally, never had sex with, and who was a mere two months from being of legal age. My actions were extremely and certainly wrong, but how does that makes me a risk to children on Halloween? And, of course, this assumption is based on the numerous cases of reported child abuse by sex offenders on Halloween, right? Or, wait, no, because those instances do not exist.
Here’s a number: 95. Every sex offender should know this number, not just on Halloween, but the other 364 days of the year as well. It has meaning. Despite what Law & Order: SVU says, the recidivism rate of Sex Offenders (according to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics) is a mere 4.3%. That means approximately 95% of convicted sex offenders never – EVER – commit another sex crime. That is the lowest rate of recidivism of any crime other than murder (and that’s likely because most people convicted of murder never breathe free air again). Another 95: According to a report by the Oakland Journal, 95% of sex crimes are committed by someone the victim was either related to or knew personally. Thus, a mere 5% of sex crimes are committed by a person with whom the victim is not acquainted – and that number includes adult sexual assaults, so the number of children molested by a stranger is actually much smaller than that. But how does this measure-up in the broad spectrum of criminal behavior and overall recidivism? According to the National Institute of Justice, that number is quite a bit higher. In a study they conducted in 2005 of 404,638 people released from prison, they found that within five years, 76.6% were rearrested. As the study states, “Property offenders were the most likely to be rearrested, with 82.1 percent of released property offenders arrested for a new crime compared with 76.9 percent of drug offenders, 73.6 percent of public order offenders and 71.3 percent of violent offenders.” Sex offenders: 4.3%.
But fear-mongering media outlets who love to scare-up ratings won’t let you be swayed by those pesky facts and statistics when fear and paranoia are more likely to make you watch their broadcasts or read their website. KAKE-TV in Wichita is among the worst. Truth doesn’t matter when fear sells more advertising minutes. And truth doesn’t matter when people actually actively seek things to be afraid of because it gives them a sense of proactive security; finding (or inventing) a problem, and then thinking they can protect themselves against it, seems to give the ignorant fear-driven suburbanite self-important populous a false sense of power and control.
So, as KAKE-TV and other fear-mongering media want you to know, there’s a lot to be afraid of on Halloween. And the fear of sex offenders is every bit as justified as being afraid of the guy in the haunted house chasing patrons around with the chainless chain saw. Both are equally as dangerous. So go ahead, check your local sex offender registry for sex offenders living in your neighborhood. Because, statistically speaking, those are the people who are least likely to harm your children. Think about that as you’re driving your car on Halloween.