Here we go again. Law enforcement officers nationwide are about to stage their annual pre-Halloween effort to make sure everyone listed on the local Sex Offenders Registry knows (imagine this being said in a spooky, Vincent Price-like voice with a scary laugh at the end) THEY ARE BEING WATCHED!
This annual charade is also supposed to help the community feel safer. I'm here to tell you it is nonsense.
The intimidation campaign is a silly diversion of manpower and a waste of your tax dollars. Police and the politicians who are in search of tough-on-crime votes will tell you otherwise, but don't believe the myth that Halloween is the night child sexual predators wait all year for. The facts tell a different story.
Those on the registry — convicts who have done their time and are trying hard to blend back into the population — will likely get a personal visit from officers. Depending on the state in which they live, they may be told that they must stay home Halloween night, that they must keep their lights off and not answer the door. Many will be required to display a sign that reads something like: "No Candy at This Residence."
There could be other restrictions, too: no holiday decorations outside the home; no dressing up in costume; no attending holiday parties, haunted houses, hay rides or any other Halloween activity where children gather.
Now, let's look at the facts. Over the last several decades there has not been one reported instance that I can find of a convicted sex offender molesting a child on Halloween night.
Shall I repeat that? Despite all the hysteria, I couldn't find evidence of even one case. Further, a huge majority of these convicts never reoffend. The only Halloween tragedy my research turned up was back in 1973 in Milwaukee, where a little 9-year-old girl, trick-or-treating by herself, went to the home of a stranger named Gerald Turner. Turner, a man with no criminal record, raped and killed the child. Using today's guidelines, Turner wouldn't even warrant a visit, since he was not a known molester.
Fact: Our sex registry system is foolish. It lumps in everyone who ever mooned or streaked or urinated in public with hardcore career pedophiles. A registrant may have been a teenager caught with a girlfriend in the backseat, the victim of a vindictive ex-wife who made abuse allegations or a man who, legitimately, believed his partner was over 18.
Whether they are a public urinator or Jerry Sandusky, they all occupy the same space on our misguided registry. And in four states — California, Alabama, South Carolina and Florida — once placed on the list the offender is there for the rest of their lives. Anyone with half a brain knows it is the dedicated pedophile — that person who will always choose a child for sex over an adult partner — whom we should spend our time watching. So why aren't we?
Fact: No matter what you've heard, sex offenders rarely repeat their crimes. Studies by Dr. Jill Levenson (and funded by the U.S. Department of Justice) have concluded the recidivism rate for sex-related convicts is about 5 to 5.3 percent. That is a whole lot lower than the recidivism rate for burglars, robbers, murderers and those who commit assault or drive drunk. Yet none of them are restricted in how they can live their lives after the justice system is done with them.
In my opinion, every time an officer hassles a registrant around Halloween, they are violating that person's civil rights. These people are already severely restricted on where they can live, work, worship and seek entertainment. Their home address and past crimes are listed on the Internet for all to see. What will the pols and the police think up next? How about curbing their movements around July 4 or Christmastime?
California attorney Janice Bellucci has just filed suit to stop Simi Valley, Calif., from enforcing its new ordinance mandating Halloween harassment. The suit claims the law "suppresses and unduly chills protected speech and expression."
Bellucci, the wife of a minister, became interested in the issue after her longtime plumber wrote a book ("We're All in This Together," by Frank Lindsay) about his experience as a sex registry lifer.
"When I read it, I was shocked," Bellucci told me on the phone. "So shocked that any group in our society would be treated that way."
Bellucci worked with rape victims for years, so she sees both side of the problem, but she filed suit on behalf of 10 registrants and their family members because "people naturally like to commit mischief on Halloween," she said. "I fear someone could see that sign outside their front door and set the (registrant's) house on fire ... or shoot a gun into the home."
She's hoping the California court will act in time to strike down the law before the end of October. The fact is, worried parents and police should be watching everyone on Halloween and not just one segment of the population that, statistically, is so unlikely to commit a crime. To do otherwise puts our children in danger. How about diverting manpower to check for drug dealers or drunk drivers careening through darkened neighborhoods full of costumed kids?
Think about this. These Halloween laws are really no different than isolating segments of the population and branding them with a scarlet "A" as an adulterer or with a Star of David as a Jew. Shame on us. It is time to declare these Halloween laws for what they are: unconstitutional.
Visit Diane Dimond's official website at www.dianedimond.com for investigative reporting, polls and more. To find out more about Diane Dimond and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.