The scary things of Halloween such as ghosts, goblins, and razor blade ridden apples are now in the past. In today’s world, parents and children have a new set of haunting concerns.
Last Thursday evening as the sun was setting children emerged into neighborhoods questing for ‘tricks or treats.” Homes were inventively decorated with carved jack-o-lanterns and orange lights strung randomly around windowsills. Children dressed in costumes ran down sidewalks, anticipating what treats awaited them at the next house.
But wait….what is this? The house is dark, not a light on in the house. It almost looks haunted. There is a sign in the yard and it is not part of the Halloween décor. The sign reads, “No candy or treats at this residence.” This appears to be the scariest house on the street.
The Los Angeles Times reports that under a southern California ordinance created by Girard Mayor James Melfi, called the Girard Law, sex offenders were barred from putting up Halloween displays and outside lighting. Offenders listed on the Megan’s Law website were required to post a sign in front of their house that gives children the message there will be no candy handed out here.
A small group of Simi Valley registered sex-offenders protested the law because the policy is discriminatory and infringing on their personal rights to participate in a customary holiday. According to attorney and president of
the California Reform Sex Offender Laws group, Janice Bellucci, who represented the five sex offenders in the suit, the
law reeks of discrimination and is reminiscent of when Nazis made Jews wear yellow stars. The city was sued for encroaching on offenders’ freedom of speech and ordered to remove the signs.
Bellucci has represented many other lawsuits on behalf of reform groups in many other municipalities across the country, including Ohio.
Bellucci said there is a common misconception nationwide that “once a sex offender, always a sex offender.” She said, however, according to a study by the Department of Justice only 5.3 percent of offenders were found to recommit sex
crimes within three years after being released from prison.
The study followed 9,700 sex offenders, 4,300 of whom were child molesters. Because of the low rate of re-offense, Bellucci said she believes the extra Halloween regulations are not effective and actually impose on the offenders’ First
City officials do not agree with Belluci and her sex-offender clients. They believe comparing sex-offender laws modeled after other southern California sex-offender policies to the Hitler theory is blowing it out of proportion. They claim the laws are designed to keep children safe from sexual predators.
Maj. Robert Sherwin of the crimes against persons division, in Dallas, Texas stated that sexual crimes on Halloween have declined 12% from 12011-2012.
The state of Texas has implemented sex-offender laws that prohibit registered sex-offenders from celebrating Halloween, and Dallas/Fort Worth city areas have added restrictions that exclude registered sex-offenders from garnishing their homes with Halloween decorations, turning the porch light on, and answering the door to trick-or-treaters.
According to Marissa Budzynski, writer for The Dallas News, experts report the new sex-offender laws are no more than a scare tactic. There is indicative proof that sex-offenders do not offend more on Halloween than any other day of the year.
Steve Lurie, an adjunct professor of law at Loyola University in Los Angeles, speculates that changes in sex-offenders’ behavior is the reason for decreases in sex offenses on Halloween. Lurie attributes increased awareness and
regulations are responsible for declining sex-offenses on Halloween. The professor professes, “On Halloween, parents, guardians, and mentors are more aware.”
Some police departments are enforcing the Halloween laws by going door to door, checking-in on sex-offenders at their homes to confirm they are not participating in the festivities.
Jill Levenson, an associate professor at Lynn University in Florida has a completely different take on the entire sex-offender/Halloween issue. She contends the most significant danger to children on Halloween night is “getting hit by a car.” Researchers at Lynn University concluded sexual assault crime rates do not fluctuate from Halloween night, a few weeks after or the rest of the year. Levenson thinks police should focus on more common Halloween crimes, such as vandalism.
Parker County, Texas has taken a more rational approach to Halloween sex-offender enforcement. The county incorporates a less humiliating approach to eradicating sex-offenders from participating in the typical holiday tradition. Mike Stack, director of adult probation in Parker County explains that sex-offense probationers are mandated to meet at an undisclosed location from 6-10 pm on Halloween and participate in counseling. The penalty for not attending the counseling meeting is a probation violation.
The program was launched in 2004 and has received mostly positive feedback from Parker County residents — including offenders — Stack said.
The reason sex-offenders are pleased with the program is if a crime occurs in their neighborhood, during the meeting hours, they have an alibi. “The finger will not be pointed back at them.” Stacks said.
Expert’s opinions are at opposing ends of the spectrum.
Bellucci believes these overly punitive policies are targeting the wrong people. She contends that “93 percent of people who commit the crimes are not on the register. They are family members, teachers, members of the clergy, coaches and unfortunately in this time, Boy Scouts leaders.”
Melfi said Girard will uphold its ordinance even if it had never had a past incident in the city – home to six registered sex offenders. The mayor of Girard is upholding his declaration to keep the children of Girard safe at any cost.
The cost of Melfi’s tactic is that it invades individual First Amendment rights. The pay-off is “peace of mind” that children are safe from being sexually assaulted from the cities’ half-a-dozen registered sex-offenders on Halloween night. However, the ordinance does not protect children from being sexually assaulted the rest of the year when they attend school, church, sporting events, club meetings or even stay at home.
The cost of Bellucci’s challenge of enforcing Halloween sex-offender laws is children run the risk of being sexually assaulted by registered sex-offender candy providers on Halloween. The pay-off is registered sex-offenders are
allowed to keep their porch lights on, decorate their yards with pumpkins and ghosts as opposed to unwelcoming signs, and hand-out candy one night a year.