Every year around Halloween, Patch, a network of news websites specializing in local coverage around the country, publishes maps that show where sex offenders live. Patch claims this is some kind of public service, even though a thorough study of 67,000 cases of child molestation found zero increase in sex crimes against children on Halloween. Zero.
The vast majority of crimes against children are committed not by strangers but by people close to the kids. So "stranger danger" is actually pointing worried parents in the wrong direction.
What's more, contrary to popular belief, "across the board, the majority of sexual offenders do not go on to reoffend," says Jill Levenson, a professor of social work who has studied Halloween crimes.
In other words, Patch publishes a list of people who have served their time and are extremely unlikely to offend again, in order to make parents terrified that the people at those addresses are out to hurt their kids.
This year is no exception. Here's a typical Patch piece, headlined "Fairfield 2018 Sex Offender Addresses To Be Aware Of On Halloween: Find out where the registered sex offenders are living in Fairfield before the kids go out trick-or-treating." The article says, "You may want to avoid trick-or-treating at these houses and apartments on Halloween, or merely be aware of who's living in your neighborhood during the rest of the year."
But why? Why find this out, considering the facts above?
Last year, the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws had had enough with this approach and wrote a letter to Patch imploring the company to stop publicizing sex offenders' addresses. The letter, which Patch ran, suggested printing a map of all the places children have been harmed or abducted on Halloween by someone on the registry over the past 20 years. "Such a map would display no dots because exhaustive research has turned up not so much as a single case," wrote NARSOL's board.
That's right. There is no recorded case of a trick-or-treater's being molested by someone on the registry, even before localities started forbidding registrants to turn on their lights or answer the door on Halloween. The rules and warnings have made no difference, just as forbidding kids to trick-or-treat at homes where there are pet rabbits or ficus trees or chandeliers would make no difference. The kids are no less safe at the home of someone on the registry as they would be at the home of someone not on the registry.
Patch responded last year with a piece subtitled "This is why Patch publishes local sex offender maps." It was by Dennis Robaugh, a top editor at the company.
This was Robaugh's rationale: A child was raped and murdered by a man named Gerald Turner in Wisconsin on Halloween in 1973. "We publish sex-offender maps because people deserve to know whether they live near someone like Turner," wrote Robaugh.
But the maps do not let people know whether they are living near someone like Turner. Not every sex offender is a child-murdering rapist. In fact, very few of them are.
Robaugh added: "Statistics and research may show children are at no greater risk of falling victim to pedophiles on Halloween than any other time of the year, but that doesn't mean children are not vulnerable."
Forget statistics. Patch prefers to stick with hysteria.
Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.