Brand awareness is essential to political success, and Halloween presents a great branding opportunity for a political campaign that never ends – promoting protection for children from an imagined vast population of pedophiles who supposedly lurk behind every tree and around every corner. What could be more frightening than Phillip Garrido on the front step, using chocolate to lure an adorable little Spiderman or Cinderella into a sexual torture chamber?
Reinforcing this potential horror in the public psyche, law enforcement agencies around the nation – with fanfare — launch an annual Halloween sex crime safety campaign, publicly reminding convicted offenders not to decorate or light their houses, and not to answer the door on Halloween night. They also remind parents to go to the internet and pinpoint the homes of local sex offenders before trick-or-treat excursions, by logging on to the online sex offender registry.
Let’s all join hands and endorse an eternal stay at the Hotel Hell for Phillip Garrido and anyone else who would sexually molest a child. But this Halloween Monster Watch lends credibility to politically-fueled hysteria about the real risk of sex crimes against children.
Most registered sex offenders are not pedophiles, nor do most registered sex offenders present a violent threat. Many are on the registry because our sex crime laws are wider than the Grand Canyon, and are continually expanded and made more punitive by legislators who exploit public fear.
Sex crime laws are easy to pass. Which lawmaker in his right mind would oppose them? The result is a massive, messy tangle of state and federal initiatives intended to curb sexual crime, driven by a coalition of victims and family members who comprise a tiny, but sympathetic portion of the population. With the help of zealous politicians and news organizations that thrive on sex crime coverage, these activists have successfully passed layer-upon-layer of law, prescribing criminal prosecution and life-time offender status not just for violent rapists and pedophiles, but for a litany of lower-level sex offenses.
Over the course of this year, The Reasonable Reporter has conducted a series of conversations with the kind of sex offenders who are a growing segment of the registry. Some of the interviews were with their families, or people involved in their legal defense. For the most part, the offenders were ordinary men who made judgment errors or engaged in activities that were once considered ungallant, but not criminal.
One got into bed with a sexually aggressive young woman who lied about her age and was sophisticated beyond her years. Several were just young and dumb themselves at the time of their offenses. One is required to register and remain on lifetime supervision because of a couple of episodes of consensual teen sex with the same girl, who was younger than he was.
Then there was the man who gave a ride to a young woman who was walking at night on a long stretch of deserted road, and told him she’d gotten lost looking for the home of her aunt. You could call this the gentleman’s dilemma. Knowing she was miles from town, should he take her to safety, or leave her lost in the dark, vulnerable to whatever fate she might encounter?
Inviting her into his vehicle was the first of several wrong decisions, which may or may not have involved sex. The young woman herself has said there was no sex, but nobody knows, because nobody else was there to witness. The man is no longer able to work in his chosen field, where he was quite accomplished, because he’s a registered sex offender.
Hollywood tipped its hat to the issue this summer in a comedy called Horrible Bosses. One of the characters with a horrible boss is trapped in his job because he is a registered sex offender (he urinated on a tree). It’s difficult to get another job when your name is on the registry, so he’s stuck. And yes, there are jurisdictions where public urination can land you on the list.
A special variety of sex offender has engaged via the internet in admittedly lascivious exchanges with cops posing as girls. Most of these men never have a chance to become actual offenders, because they are arrested before their sexual intentions can turn into sexual acts. No actual girls are harmed in this exercise, because no actual girls are involved. But it makes great reality TV, and boosts the criminal conviction records. It helps secure federal law enforcement dollars, and it allows politicians to brag and posture about protecting “children” because the “girls” are represented in their fake communication as young teens – children, legally speaking.
Meanwhile, thousands of men who are no real threat to anyone are stigmatized, with opportunities for normal career achievement and social lives closed to them. They may become unemployed, even homeless.
You will note there are no names in this piece. That’s because sex offenders are understandably publicity shy. Those who have jobs fear being fired if they identify themselves. They fear retribution if their neighbors become aware of their status. They live in a state of anxiety, knowing that the information is public and they can be discovered at any time.
The families of registered sex offenders are also reluctant to speak, because they have safety concerns for the offender, and because a peaceful family existence can become impossible when they reveal their connection to a sex offender. Heartbroken parents watch, unable to help, as their young men live in fear and isolation.
Some lawmakers will admit behind the scenes that sex crime laws are more out of control than sex crime itself. But have you heard one say so in public?
There are some hard numbers from studies indicating that sex crime laws are doing more to ruin the lives of American men than they are doing to protect American children. But you don’t need a university study. The published numbers on the sex offender registries tell the tale. The numbers of offenders in each category make it obvious that the majority of registrants are not Halloween monsters.
Finally, a quick reality check when it comes to Halloween night. Yes, there could be a pervert offering freshly-baked oatmeal cookies on Monday night to tykes who agree to retrieve them from his front pants pockets. But almost universally, kids trick-or-treat in groups, not alone. And parents, if they have two brain cells to rub together, don’t allow young children to go knocking on doors at night unaccompanied, period.
So why use Halloween night to stir up this brand of fear, when kids have a better chance of being hit by a car on Halloween than being sexually molested by a stranger?