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How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters? An Analysis of Child Sex Crime Rates on Halloween

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States, municipalities, and parole departments have adopted policies banning known sex offenders from Halloween activities, based on the worry that there is unusual risk on these days. The existence of this risk has not been empirically established. National Incident-Base Reporting System crime report data from 1997 through 2005 were used to examine daily population adjusted rates from 67,045 nonfamilial sex crimes against children aged 12 years and less. Halloween rates were compared with expectations based on time, seasonality, and weekday periodicity. Rates did not differ from expectation, no increased rate on or just before Halloween was found, and Halloween incidents did not evidence unusual case characteristics. Findings were invariant across years, both prior to and after these policies became popular. These findings raise questions about the wisdom of diverting law enforcement resources to attend to a problem that does not appear to exist.
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Research and Treatment
Sexual Abuse: A Journal of
DOI: 10.1177/1079063209340143
2009; 21; 363 originally published online Jul 6, 2009; SEX ABUSE
Mark Chaffin, Jill Levenson, Elizabeth Letourneau and Paul Stern
on Halloween
How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters?: An Analysis of Child Sex Crime Rates
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How Safe Are
Trick-or-Treaters?
An Analysis of Child Sex Crime
Rates on Halloween
Mark Chaffin
University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK
Jill Levenson
Lynn University, Boca Raton, Florida
Elizabeth Letourneau
Medical University of South Carolina Family Services Research Center,
Charleston, SC
Paul Stern
Snohomish County Prosecutors Office, Everett, WA
States, municipalities, and parole departments have adopted policies banning known
sex offenders from Halloween activities, based on the worry that there is unusual risk
on these days. The existence of this risk has not been empirically established. National
Incident-Base Reporting System crime report data from 1997 through 2005 were used
to examine daily population adjusted rates from 67,045 nonfamilial sex crimes against
children aged 12 years and less. Halloween rates were compared with expectations
based on time, seasonality, and weekday periodicity. Rates did not differ from expecta-
tion, no increased rate on or just before Halloween was found, and Halloween incidents
did not evidence unusual case characteristics. Findings were invariant across years,
both prior to and after these policies became popular. These findings raise questions
about the wisdom of diverting law enforcement resources to attend to a problem that
does not appear to exist.
Keywords: child sexual abuse; sex offenses; Halloween; National Incident-Base
Reporting System; NIBRS; policy and law
D
uring the past two decades, various sex crime policies, including registration,
community notification, and residence restrictions, have been implemented to
prevent and deter sexual violence against children. The newest trend in this effort
has been to prohibit known sex offenders from engaging in holiday festivities, par-
ticularly on or around Halloween. In previous generations, urban myths about
Authors’ Note: Please address correspondence to Jill Levenson, Lynn University, 3601 N. Military Trail,
Boca Raton, FL 33431; e-mail: jsljwm@bellsouth.net.
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364 Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment
Halloween warned of tainted or poisoned candy, and parents were advised to check
for apples with razor blades tucked inside, despite no verification that such incidents
ever occurred (Glassner, 1999). Now parents are urged to be wary of potential sexual
predators handing out candy and to check their local sex offender registries to find
the addresses of homes to be avoided.
Several states have passed laws or enacted local regulations restricting known sex
offenders’ activities on Halloween (O’Connor, 2005). In some New York counties,
for example, sex offenders on probation are required to attend a 4-hour education
program on Halloween night. In New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Wisconsin,
California, South Carolina, and North Carolina, curfew policies prohibit registered
sex offenders from going out or opening their doors on Halloween (Wood, 2006).
New Jersey sex offenders caught giving out candy are considered in violation of
probation and face up to 3 years in jail. In Tennessee, sex offenders on probation are
banned from Halloween costume parties and cannot put up decorations, and in Ohio,
Illinois, Virginia, and North Carolina, offenders are ordered to attend meetings with
law enforcement or probation officials during the evening hours of Halloween
(Associated Press, 2006; Walberg, 2006). In Idaho, Maryland, Florida, and Texas,
sex offenders on probation are warned not to decorate their homes and are told to
keep their houses dark on Halloween night. In Kentucky, sex offenders receive a
letter from police telling them not to give out candy or have unauthorized contact
with children. Michigan police told a Lansing television station that there are no
laws in the state prohibiting a sex offender from handing out candy but recom-
mended that parents check the sex offender registry before trick-or-treating.
These policies are premised on the theory that Halloween provides an opportunity
for sex offenders to make contact with youngsters for improper purposes or to use
costumes to conceal their identities and avoid detection (O’Connor, 2005). In par-
ticular, Halloween policies are aimed at protecting children from sexual assault by
nonfamily members and individuals with whom a child has little routine contact
outside of the Halloween context. A second premise is the perception that sex
offenders have alarmingly high recidivism rates, generating understandable concern
and mobilizing efforts toward community protection policies (Levenson, Brannon,
Fortney, & Baker, 2007). In fact, it has been found that a minority of convicted sex
offenders go on to be rearrested for new sex crimes (Bureau of Justice Statistics,
2003; Hall, 1995; Hanson & Bussiere, 1998; Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2004;
Harris & Hanson, 2004). Furthermore, apprehensions about “stranger danger” can
be misleading, as more than 90% of sexually abused children are victimized by
someone known to them, often a relative or close acquaintance (Bureau of Justice
Statistics, 2000, 2004). A study in Jacksonville, Florida, found that 15 out of 230 sex
offenders (about 7%) were neighbors of their victims (Bartkowiak & Daniels, 2007),
and in Minnesota, about 3% to 4% of repeat sex offenders victimized neighbors
(Duwe, Donnay, & Tewksbury, 2008).
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Chaffin et al. / Sex Offenders on Halloween 365
Law enforcement officials note that Halloween laws were not developed in
response to actual attacks reported to have occurred on 31 October or in a trick-or-
treat context (O’Connor, 2005). Police have generally not expressed alarm about an
observed increase in incidents where children are snatched off porches or victim-
ized on Halloween. Notably, the chair of the parole board in New Jersey stated that
there were no known assaults by registered sex offenders committed on Halloween
(Wood, 2006). Kristen Anderson, director of the case analysis division for sex
offender tracking at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, was
quoted as saying that only nine nonfamily child abductions were reported in the
United States between 29 October and 1 November over a 5-year period, none of
which appeared to have any connection to trick-or-treating (Kriel, 2008).
Although the types of offenses targeted by Halloween sex offender policies may
be rare, a rationale for these policies might exist nonetheless. On one hand, it could
be the case that sex crimes show an unusual spike on or around Halloween, justify-
ing a corresponding intensification in vigilance and restrictions. On the other hand,
the holiday could be a completely typical and routine day as far as these types of
offenses are concerned, contradicting a major part of the rationale on which the
policies are based. Whether or not there is actually a measured elevation in child sex
crime risk on Halloween is unknown. This is a question that has received little or
no empirical study. The purpose of this study was to empirically examine whether
there is a Halloween effect on nonfamilial sex crimes against children—that is,
whether the rate of these crimes on Halloween differs from what we would expect
if it were just another day.
Method
Data for the study were drawn from publicly downloadable National Incident-
Based Reporting System (NIBRS) data sets. NIBRS was instituted in the United
States as an updated and more detailed replacement for the uniform crime reporting
system that has been in effect since the 1930s. Similar to the uniform crime report-
ing, NIBRS draws data from local law enforcement agencies in individual reporting
jurisdictions. Some or all of a state’s jurisdictions may participate in NIBRS.
Participating jurisdictions are required to demonstrate that their local data categories
can be translated reliably and accurately into NIBRS coding categories. One of the
main advantages of NIBRS is that it provides detailed data on individual, not aggre-
gated, incidents known to law enforcement, including information about the incident
date, the victim(s) and offender(s) involved, the type of crime(s) involved in the
incident, victim(s) characteristics, offender(s) characteristics, and expanded victim–
offender relationship information. NIBRS participation is limited but accelerating.
In 1995, jurisdictions in 9 states were contributing data; by 1997 the number was 12
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366 Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment
states, and by 2004, jurisdictions in 29 states submitted reports. By 2004, NIBRS
covered approximately 20% of the nation’s population and recorded data on more
than 4 million individual crime incidents annually, which constitutes approximately
16% of crimes in the United States. Although not a representative sample, NIBRS
does provide a rich database suited to examining trends and patterns in more finely
grained crime categories.
NIBRS is particularly well suited to the purposes of this study because it provides
detailed individual-level information about crime incidents, including the occur-
rence date, the type of crime, victim age, and the type of preexisting victim–offender
relationship. It also covers a time frame beginning prior to the widespread popularity
of Halloween sex offender policies up until the recent past. NIBRS data allow us to
narrow the examination to sex crimes that might reasonably be addressed by
Halloween sex offender policies. For example, sex crimes against children commit-
ted by family members, close friends, babysitters, teachers, or others are not directly
addressed by Halloween-related sex offender policies. Rather, these policies are
most directly concerned with preventing sex crimes against children in trick-or-treat
and similar contexts that might bring the child into contact with sex offenders who
are strangers, acquaintances, neighbors, or individuals with no preexisting close
relationship to the child. Similarly, these policies are most directly concerned with
preventing sex offenses against young children rather than sex offenses against all
victim age groups. Because these policies are often directed toward offenders on sex
offender registries, they can apply to both adult and juvenile offenders depending on
local registration practices and policies. Individual incidents were selectively
included from NIBRS data with these considerations in mind.
Victim data from the 1997 through 2005 NIBRS reporting years were used for the
study. These years captured data from jurisdictions in 10 states in 1997, expanding
to 30 states by 2005. Victimization incidents were included if they met the following
criteria: (a) the victim was age 12 years or less on the occurrence date (not the
reporting date) of the incident, (b) the primary offender in the incident had no
reported preexisting family or role relationship to the victim, and (c) the offense(s)
coded included at least one sex crime other than a prostitution-related offense. The
offenses included were forcible sodomy, forcible rape, statutory rape, sexual assault
with an object, child pornography–related crimes, and forcible fondling. The result-
ing combined sample included 67,045 victims.
Results
Because Halloween-related activities sometimes occur on the days immediately
preceding Halloween, as well as on Halloween itself, a span of 3 days (Halloween
and 2 days prior) were designated as Halloween days for all statistical comparisons.
Victims were 73% female and 27% male with a mean and median age of 8 years.
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Chaffin et al. / Sex Offenders on Halloween 367
Victim age was bimodally distributed, and the most common ages of victims were
12 and 11, followed by 4 and 5 years of age (see Figure 1). Victims were 75% White,
19% Black, 5% unknown, and less than 1% Native American/Alaska Native and
Asian/Pacific Islander. Five percent were reported as ethnically Hispanic. Victim
gender, age distribution by year, median age, race, and ethnicity did not significantly
differ between Halloween and other days. Primary offenders were 94% male with a
mean age of 24 and a median age of 18, which did not differ between Halloween and
other days.
A total of 67,307 sex offenses were coded for the 67,045 victims. The most com-
mon offense category was forcible fondling (63%), followed by forcible rape (15%),
forcible sodomy (12%), sexual assault with an object (6%), and statutory rape (4%).
The distribution of offense categories did not differ significantly between Halloween
days and other days. The victim–offender relationship for the sample was coded as
acquaintances (43%), followed by an unknown person (28%), neighbor (8%),
stranger (5%), or a person otherwise known to the victim but not an unspecified
family member (15%), and the distribution did not significantly differ between
Halloween days and all other days.
Figure 1
Age of Victims
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368 Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment
The overall analytic strategy for examining offense rates involved three steps.
First, the time series of daily rates over 9 years was examined for trend, seasonality,
and periodicity. Second, a predictive model was specified to account for seasonal
and periodic cycles. Finally, the Halloween effect was tested for deviation from
prediction. Daily report numbers over the 9 years were calculated by aggregating the
number of victims for each day in the time series.
A distinct and invariant day-of-month effect was observed in the raw data, reflect-
ing very high reporting on the first day of every month, likely because of interval
censoring for incidents where the incident month may be known but not the exact
date. Additionally, elevated annual (on 1 January of each year) and midannual (on 1
June of each year) spikes are present also likely because of censoring. The first day
of each month was removed from the overall time series to manage this irregularity.
Daily report counts were transformed into rates per 100,000 of population. Summed
annual population figures associated with each individual NIBRS reporting jurisdic-
tion for each year were used for estimating rates. Linear interyear interpolations
were used to create a series of estimated daily population numbers, which served as
the denominator in daily time series rate calculations. The time series of rates was
decomposed into trend and seasonal components using a Loess decomposition pro-
cedure in R with optimized time span settings (Cleveland, Cleveland, McRae, &
Terpenning, 1990). This is shown in Figure 2. Regular, sinusoidal seasonal patterns
were observed, along with an overall declining trend over the 1997 to 2005 time
period. Finally, weekday periodicity was observed, with weekend incidents being
somewhat less prevalent than Monday to Friday incidents. Trend and seasonality
components seen in Figure 2 were modeled as a Fourier series
where Y
t
is the incident count at time t, l is the period length, and e is residual error.
Trend components are reflected in the linear and quadratic terms involving t, and
seasonality components are reflected in the sine wave (sin and cos) terms. The
Fourier model fits the data well, accounted for 50% of observed variability, and all
parameters were significant. The fit of the Fourier prediction model with observed
counts, aggregated across years to show fit for 1 mean year, is shown in Figure 3.
Note the substantial rate increases during the summer months. Predicted counts from
the Fourier model for each day in the series were saved and converted to rates per
100,000 of population for use as covariates in the final model of Halloween
effects.
Daily rates were modeled as the outcome using a mixed model procedure with
restricted maximum likelihood estimation of model parameters. Days of the year
were treated as subjects and years as a repeated factor with a diagonal covariance
Y
t
= a
0
+ a
1
t + a
2
t
2
+ b cos
2p
l
+ g sin
2p
l
+ e
t
,
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Chaffin et al. / Sex Offenders on Halloween 369
structure. Explanatory variables included the predicted rate estimated by the Fourier
model to account for linear + quadratic trend and sinusoidal seasonality, an indicator
variable coded for day of the week to account for weekday periodicity, and an indi-
cator variable for Halloween (including the two prior days) as the effect of interest.
No significant effect attributed to Halloween days was found (see Table 1).
Examining Figure 2, greater residual variability was noted during earlier periods of
the time series. Residual weights were applied to the model to correct for this, using
the reciprocal of the time predicted squared model residual, but this did not alter
Figure 2
Loess Decomposition of Trend and Seasonality
0.00
data
0.02
seasonal
0.052
trend
0.04
1998
remainder
time
0.00 0.04 0.08
0.00 0.02
0.0600.048
0.056
0.150.10
0.05
2000 2002 2004 2006
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370 Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment
results. Data on Halloween sex offender policies in the individual jurisdictions were
unavailable, but it is likely that several began to implement sex offender policies at
some point given that the policies have seen widespread uptake over the study time
frame. If these policies produced a net effect over time on overall Halloween victim-
ization, we would predict that the rates of offenses on Halloween would show
greater decline over time relative to the rates for other days. If true, this might
explain the absence of a simple Halloween effect. To test whether there may have
been greater reductions in offense rates on Halloween relative to other days over the
9-year span, a year-by-Halloween interaction term was added to the model. The
interaction did not approach significance. The observed rates and predicted rates
from a restricted model (excluding the Halloween effect) for Halloween day and the
surrounding ±14 days are presented in Figure 4.
To contextualize sex crimes against children by nonfamily members, we examined
only the most recent year included in the study (2005), which included information on
Figure 3
Fit of Fourier Model With Observed Counts, Aggregated
Across Years, With Reference Line at Halloween
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Chaffin et al. / Sex Offenders on Halloween 371
more than 5 million victimizations from 30 states with reporting jurisdictions. The
most common types of crime from among the incidents reported on Halloween and
adjacent days were theft (32%), destruction or vandalism of property (21%), assault
(19%), and burglary (9%). Vandalism and property destruction accounted for a sig-
nificantly greater proportion of crime around Halloween compared with all other days
(21% vs. 14% of all reports). Sex crimes of all types accounted for slightly more than
1% of all Halloween crime. Sex crimes against children of the kind examined in this
study accounted for less than .2% of all Halloween crime incidents.
Discussion
This study found no significant increase in risk for nonfamilial child sexual abuse
on or just prior to Halloween. Although sex offenders may use seemingly innocent
Figure 4
Observed Rates Versus Restricted Model Predicted Rates
(Excluding Halloween Variable From the Prediction Model) for
the Month Surrounding Halloween. Reference line at Halloween
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372 Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment
opportunities to engage children and sexually abuse (Conte, Wolf, & Smith, 1989;
Salter, 1995) and therefore might be hypothesized to use trick-or-treat for ulterior
purposes, this logic does not appear to translate into any actual unusual rate of sex
offenses on Halloween. The absence of a Halloween effect remained constant over
the 9-year period, beginning well before the current interest in Halloween sex
offender policies and extending to recent years. Any Halloween policies that have
been adopted by reporting jurisdictions during that period appear not to have
affected the overall sex offense rate.
Halloween was also typical in terms of victim and offender characteristics, the
types of child sex offenses reported, and the categories of victim–offender relation-
ships involved. As with all other days of the year, young children are sexually vic-
timized on Halloween. We do not suggest that there is no risk on Halloween or that
anecdotal accounts of Halloween molestations should be dismissed. Nor do we sug-
gest that parents should abandon caution and reasonable supervision of their chil-
dren. But there does not appear to be need for alarm concerning sexual abuse on
these particular days. In short, Halloween appears to be just another autumn day
where rates of sex crimes against children are concerned. If anything, increased
vigilance concerning risk should be directed to the summer months in general, where
regular seasonal increases in rates are readily seen (see Figure 3).
Although the sample available through NIBRS did not include all states, the
similarities in overall time trends to those found by other researchers using 50-state
data sources are encouraging. During the study time frame, decreases in violent
crime have been observed in general (Bureau of Justice Assistance, 2008). Official
crime data and victim reports both indicate that rape arrest rates peaked in 1990 and
have decreased steadily since 1991 (Maguire & Pastore, 2003). Examining child
welfare data, a 51% decline in child sexual abuse rates have been observed between
1990 and 2005 (Finkelhor & Jones, 2004; Jones & Finkelhor, 2003). Ironically, these
welcome decreases appear to coincide with escalating anxiety, fueling fear in parents
and prompting legislators to propose laws to assuage the concerns of their constitu-
ents (Sample & Kadleck, 2008). In this case, worries and good intentions might have
inspired advocates and lawmakers to propose legislation that combats a nonexistent
problem. The findings suggest that Halloween policies may in fact be targeting a
new urban myth similar to past myths warning of tainted treats. The results are
Table 1
Model Results Testing the Effect of Halloween Versus Other Days, Controlling
for Fourier Trend and Seasonality, Plus Weekday Effects
Source Numerator df Denominator df F Significance
Intercept 1 400.068 26.691 .000
Halloween 1 331.727 .258 .612
Fourier prediction 1 550.670 497.325 .000
Weekday 6 2670.719 114.329 .000
Year 8 1952.419 3.880 .000
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Chaffin et al. / Sex Offenders on Halloween 373
consistent with observations offered by law enforcement officials who do not
describe any epidemic of trick-or-treaters being assaulted by known sex offenders
and who have observed no unusual rate of child sexual assault events on Halloween
(O’Connor, 2005).
It might be argued that Halloween sex offender policies are worthwhile even if
they prevent only a single child from being victimized. However, this line of reason-
ing fails to consider the cost side of the cost–benefit equation. The wide net cast by
Halloween laws places some degree of burden on law enforcement officers whose
time would otherwise be allocated to addressing more probable dangerous events.
For example, a particularly salient threat to children on Halloween comes from
motor vehicle accidents. Children aged 5 to 14 years are four times more likely to
be killed in a pedestrian–motor vehicle accident on Halloween than on any other day
of the year (Centers for Disease Control, 1997). Regarding criminal activity on
Halloween, alcohol-related offenses and vandalism are particularly common (Siverts,
2002). Although we do not know the precise amount of law enforcement resources
consumed by Halloween sex offender policies, it will be important for policy makers
to estimate and consider allocation of resources in light of the actual increased risks
that exist in other areas, such as pedestrian–vehicle fatalities. Our findings indicated
that sex crimes against children by nonfamily members account for 2 out of every
1,000 Halloween crimes, calling into question the justification for diverting law
enforcement resources away from more prevalent public safety concerns.
Study results should be considered in light of the strengths and limitations. The
data drawn from NIBRS captured more than 67,000 sex offenses reported to law
enforcement agencies in 30 states across 9 years and did allow exclusion of familial
or similar sex crime cases that are not targeted by these policies. As with all second-
ary crime data sets, data entry error or jurisdictional idiosyncrasies might affect the
precision of the results. Also, the data set did not contain variables that would have
been valuable for even more precisely focusing the study incidents, such as informa-
tion about whether the perpetrator was a registered sex offender or whether the
incident specifically involved a trick-or-treat context. The data set did not provide
information about any situations where Halloween activities may have contributed
to grooming or set up an incident that took place on a later date. This study does,
however, provide the first empirical analysis of child sex crimes occurring on
Halloween and, therefore, can inform policy development, law enforcement resource
distribution, and case management practices.
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... Further, several states and local municipalities have passed laws imposing restrictions on registered individuals convicted of sexual offenses on Halloween (Calkins et al., 2015;Chaffin et al., 2009). Halloween is a celebration on 31 October in which children dress in costumes and knock on doors asking for treats (i.e. ...
... Specifically, some states require individuals convicted of sexual offenses to attend education programs on Halloween night (O'Connor, 2005), while other states set a curfew, barring individuals convicted of sexual offenses from going out or opening their doors at night during the holiday (Wood, 2006). Some states also restrict registered individuals convicted of sexual offenses from participating in costumed Halloween parties or putting up decorations (Chaffin et al., 2009). ...
... Similarly, Halloween laws were developed to keep individuals who commit sexual offenses from victimizing children; however, they have been ineffective. Chaffin et al. (2009) found that sex offenses do not occur more frequently on Halloween or in the days surrounding the holiday. Additionally, since the implementation of Halloween restrictions, sex offenses on Halloween have not decreased (Chaffin et al., 2009). ...
Article
Sex offender laws were designed to decrease sexual violence. The current mixed methods study examined attitudes and opinions of parole and probation officers who have supervised individuals convicted of sexual offenses (n = 361) regarding sex offender legislation and how these policies can be most effective in preventing recidivism. About half of the officers reported that registration and notification, sexually violent predator and Halloween laws were largely effective in preventing sexual victimization. Conversely, they perceived residence restriction laws and the tier system to be largely ineffective. A consistent theme that emerged from the qualitative responses was a movement away from blanket approaches towards a case-specific approach, tailoring the laws to individuals based upon their needs and risk level.
... The narrowest of all public policies aimed at persons convicted of sexual offenses, Halloween laws, often apply to as little as a single 4-to 6-hr period on one specific day each year. There are several different iterations of these laws, but all attempt to limit contact between persons convicted of sexual offenses and children on Halloween (October 31; Chaffin, Levenson, Letourneau, & Stern, 2009). Chaffin et al. (2009) cataloged many different forms of these laws, including those that forbid persons convicted of sexual offenses from going outside, putting up decorations, attending costume parties, or giving out candy on Halloween, as well as laws that require them to attend meetings with law enforcement, probation/parole officers, or treatment providers during trick-or-treating hours. ...
... There are several different iterations of these laws, but all attempt to limit contact between persons convicted of sexual offenses and children on Halloween (October 31; Chaffin, Levenson, Letourneau, & Stern, 2009). Chaffin et al. (2009) cataloged many different forms of these laws, including those that forbid persons convicted of sexual offenses from going outside, putting up decorations, attending costume parties, or giving out candy on Halloween, as well as laws that require them to attend meetings with law enforcement, probation/parole officers, or treatment providers during trick-or-treating hours. Although no studies have assessed the actual impact of these laws since they began being implemented, the results of several studies fail to support the assumptions underlying the laws. ...
... Although no studies have assessed the actual impact of these laws since they began being implemented, the results of several studies fail to support the assumptions underlying the laws. For example, Chaffin et al. (2009) found no evidence of increased sexual victimization of children on or immediately before Halloween, while Duwe et al. (2008) found less than 5% of sexual recidivists to have victimized their neighbors. ...
Article
Contemporary data from the United States show that rates of sexual offending and reoffending have been in steady decline for decades. Nonetheless, nonprofessionals continue to view sexual violence as a community safety issue fraught with risk and uncertainty. The past 30 years have been witness to considerable research and practice in the assessment, treatment, and risk management of persons who have sexually offended. Gains have also been made in regard to prevention and citizen education. Modern day technologies include actuarial risk assessment instruments, measures of criminogenic need and treatment progress, refinements to treatment processes, and the establishment of evidence-based models. Legislative authorities in the United States and elsewhere have also attempted to affect risk in the community with, perhaps, lesser degrees of success. This article reviews current policies and practices, with a specific focus on what happens when offenders are released to the community (e.g., how public policies intended to track offenders and/or restrict their movements can negatively affect community reintegration). Comprehensive approaches to community sexual offender management are examined in addition to suggestions of unique approaches intended to ensure citizen buy-in and engagement.
... For example, scholarship suggests that sex offenders receive especially lengthy terms of incarceration (Budd and Desmond 2014;Cohen and Jeglic 2007;Greenfeld 1997). Apart from incarceration, sex offenders are subjected to a range of unique post-incarceration civil sanctions that include civil commitment evaluation (Harris 2009), placement on the sex offender registry (Levenson 2009), community notification requirements (Zevitz 2006), GPS monitoring (Armstrong and Freeman 2011), residency restrictions (Levenson 2009), castration (Scott and del Busto 2009), and other types of restrictions on community participation (see, e.g., Chaffin et al. 2009). ...
... For example, scholarship suggests that sex offenders receive especially lengthy terms of incarceration (Budd and Desmond 2014;Cohen and Jeglic 2007;Greenfeld 1997). Apart from incarceration, sex offenders are subjected to a range of unique post-incarceration civil sanctions that include civil commitment evaluation (Harris 2009), placement on the sex offender registry (Levenson 2009), community notification requirements (Zevitz 2006), GPS monitoring (Armstrong and Freeman 2011), residency restrictions (Levenson 2009), castration (Scott and del Busto 2009), and other types of restrictions on community participation (see, e.g., Chaffin et al. 2009). ...
... For example, scholarship suggests that sex offenders receive especially lengthy terms of incarceration (Budd and Desmond 2014;Cohen and Jeglic 2007;Greenfeld 1997). Apart from incarceration, sex offenders are subjected to a range of unique post-incarceration civil sanctions that include civil commitment evaluation (Harris 2009), placement on the sex offender registry (Levenson 2009), community notification requirements (Zevitz 2006), GPS monitoring (Armstrong and Freeman 2011), residency restrictions (Levenson 2009), castration (Scott and del Busto 2009), and other types of restrictions on community participation (see, e.g., Chaffin et al. 2009). ...
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Objectives This paper tests theoretical arguments that suggest court actors hold gendered views of sex offenders that result in a gender gap in sex offender punishment, where women who commit sexual offenses are treated more leniently than their male counterparts. Methods We test this argument with precision matching analyses using 15 years of data on all felony sex offenders sentenced in a single state. Results Results indicate that gender disparities in sex offender sentencing exist and are pervasive across sex offense types. Specifically, male sex offenders are more likely to be sentenced to prison, and given longer terms, than female sex offenders. Findings are similar across sex offense severity and whether the offense involved a minor victim. Conclusions These findings suggest that female sex offenders are treated more leniently than their matched male counterparts, even in instances of more serious sex offenses and those involving minor victims. Findings support theoretical arguments that contend that court decision-making is influenced by legally-irrelevant characteristics and raise questions about the source of gendered views of sex offenders and their effects on punishment approaches. Findings also raise questions about the virtue of get-tough sentencing policies that provide leeway for such dramatic variation across different groups of people.
... These included registration and notification policies, residence restrictions, postincarceration civil commitment, and chemical castration (see, generally, Mancini and Mears 2016). Some policymakers pushed further, adding sanctions that include restrictions on Halloween celebrations (Chaffin et al. 2009), bumper sticker identifiers, yard markers, and other measures (Chaffin et al. 2009;Janus and Prentky 2008;Logan 1999Logan , 2009. A logical corollary of this shift is that courts could be anticipated to apply these laws and that the existence of these laws would spur on more punitive sentencing packages for sex offenders. ...
... These included registration and notification policies, residence restrictions, postincarceration civil commitment, and chemical castration (see, generally, Mancini and Mears 2016). Some policymakers pushed further, adding sanctions that include restrictions on Halloween celebrations (Chaffin et al. 2009), bumper sticker identifiers, yard markers, and other measures (Chaffin et al. 2009;Janus and Prentky 2008;Logan 1999Logan , 2009. A logical corollary of this shift is that courts could be anticipated to apply these laws and that the existence of these laws would spur on more punitive sentencing packages for sex offenders. ...
Article
Objectives This article tests two theoretical ideas: (1) that social concerns about particular “dangerous classes” of offenders shift over time to influence court sanctioning practices and (2) that, since the 1990s, sex offenders in particular came to be viewed by courts as one such “dangerous class.” Methods We examine sanctioning trends in Florida and compare punishment of sex offenders in earlier versus later parts of the get-tough era. We then examine whether sentencing is associated with rational criminal justice incentives (e.g., increasing seriousness or rates of sex crimes) or with shifting public concerns (e.g., increasing media attention to sexual violence). Results Punitiveness increased for all crimes but especially for sex crimes. Punitiveness appears not to be driven by increasing seriousness or rates of crime, but does appear to be partially driven by increasing national media attention to sexual violence. Conclusions The findings support arguments that sex offenders were subjected to a uniquely punitive turn in sanctioning and that courts are sensitive to shifting public concerns. The results advance theoretical arguments developed by Gottschalk and earlier work that suggests that the persistence of get-tough era sentencing practices may be driven in part through focal attention to select types of offenders.
... Despite the stated intentions of these policies of preventing future sexual victimization, recent scholarship disputes that these policies actually result in less sexual offending, reduced sexual recidivism, or greater community safety (Chaffin, Levenson, Letourneau, & Stern, 2009;Duwe, Donnay, & Tewksbury, 2008;Leon, 2011b;Nobles, Levenson, & Youstin, 2012;Sandler, Freeman, & Socia, 2008;Socia, 2012;Tewksbury, Jennings, & Zgoba, 2012). Recidivism rates of those convicted of sex offenses are much lower than the public often assumes, and current policies are unlikely to result in further decreases to these already low recidivism rates. ...
... Often, the registrant parent missed important milestones and achievements, leaving children confused as to why their parent was unable to attend their school play, soccer game, or take them trick-or-treating. Empirical examination of sex crime rates indicates that there is no empirical basis for heightened concerns around events like Halloween, and that it is in fact a diversion of police efforts that could produce tangible results elsewhere (Chaffin et al., 2009). ...
Article
The current paper presents findings from a qualitative study using a web-based survey (n = 58) and open-ended interviews (n = 19) to investigate the impact of sex offender law and policies on family members of convicted sex offenders. Specifically, this paper discusses the impact sex offender policies and ‘extra-legal’ restrictions made by employers and landlords on housing and income stability, as well as impacts on family dynamics: a far less examined consequence of sex offender laws. Participants described how their children missed out on family bonding activities due to restrictions placed on their registrant parent, such as having their father attend school events, taking their children trick-or-treating, and going on family vacations. Responses indicated that policies intended to protect children and families are in reality tearing these family members’ lives apart. As a result, registrants and their families experienced social rejection and isolation, both of which are obstacles in the process of desistance from offending behavior and successful reintegration. Experiences of these family members shed light on the unintended punitive consequences of current sex offender policy and the critical need for reform.
... Do the numbers show greater harm to children from sex offenders on Halloween? In a study examining data from 1997 through 2005, researchers found that the answer was a resounding no (Chaffin et al., 2009). Yet, year after year, states continue to increase law enforcement attention to sex offenders on Halloween … the imaginary problem of increased risk to children on this night of fear. ...
... Unfortunately, many researchers do not explicitly state how many records they include per segment (e.g., Burkhardt et al., 2019;Chaffin, Levenson, Letourneau, & Stern, 2009;McCabe & Gregory, 1998;Savard, Kelley, Jaksa, & Kennedy, 2019). The omission of this information is likely due, in part, to relative inattention to this issue to this point. ...
Article
In an effort to upgrade and improve criminal justice statistics, the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program is currently in the process of transitioning from the Summary Reporting System (SRS) to the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). While this transition will increase the capacity for law enforcement agencies and analysts to make informed decisions regarding crime and policing policy, the detail of NIBRS increases analytic complexity. More specifically, NIBRS includes variables in six data segments, five of which can include multiple records per incident. As a result, analysts must decide how many records to use. However, there is currently no guidance for best practices in making this decision. This research addresses this gap by examining the impact of this decision on descriptive analyses and regression estimates. Results indicate some estimates are measured accurately using only one record, using three records reduces inaccuracy, and with some exceptions, using more than three records is methodologically unnecessary. As the NIBRS data become increasingly representative and useful in the coming years, it will be important that they are used both efficiently and effectively. Taken together, this research suggests that for most analyses there is substantial consistency when using at least three records per data segment but that there are some cases for which the number of records is consequential and researchers should consider the methodological and theoretical implications of each strategy when choosing between them.
... Despite widespread support for containment-based policies, perceptions of their efficacy do not match reality. For instance, a growing body of evidence, including several multistate studies, suggests that public registries are ineffective at reducing the rates of sexual abuse (e.g., Chaffin, Levenson, Letourneau, & Stern, 2009;Levenson & D'Amora, 2007;Sandler, Freeman, & Socia, 2008;Vasquez, Maddan, & Walker, 2008;Zgoba et al., 2012). Research also suggests that, despite widespread support , residence restrictions do not reduce recidivistic sex crimes (e.g., Huebner et al., 2014;Nobles, Levenson, & Youstin, 2012;Savage & Windsor, 2018;Socia, 2012Socia, , 2015. ...
Article
Although research has examined perceptions of child sexual abuse (CSA) prevention and the efficacy of sex offender policies (SOPs), less research compares these perceptions between different backgrounds. We explore these perceptions among North Carolina stakeholders with backgrounds related to (a) victims of CSA, (b) individuals convicted of sex crimes (ICSCs), and/or (c) law enforcement and policymakers. Specifically, we examine how these backgrounds differ in the perceived efficacy of (a) the ability to prevent CSA, (b) containment-based SOPs, and (c) assistance-based SOPs. We find that the victim-focused background was the most optimistic that CSA prevention is possible, and the law and policy background was the most pessimistic. Furthermore, the ICSC-focused background was the least likely to believe in the effectiveness of containment-based strategies and the most likely to believe in the effectiveness of assistance-based strategies. An overlapping victim-and-ICSC background consistently fell in between the views of victim-only and ICSC-only backgrounds.
... Viewed from that prism, the use of NIBRS data to investigate our research questions can be seen as a limitation. It is important to note, though, that prior scholarship has relied on the NIBRS for analysis of other research voids that also required characteristics of the crime incident to investigate study hypotheses (see, for example, Chaffin, Levenson, Letourneau, & Stern, 2009;Krienert & Walsh, 2011;Prescott & Rockoff, 2008). As these studies mention, the NIBRS still represents one of the only large data sets that would provide for evaluation of the timing, location, and other features of reported crime incidents. ...
Article
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In the United States, certain laws restrict those convicted of sexually offending from accessing social spaces where youth congregate such as parks and playgrounds. However, empirical work to date has rarely described sexual assaults in these locations or tested the assumptions of these laws explicitly. To address these gaps in the literature, we drew on the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) to analyze offender, victim, and crime characteristics of sexual assaults that occurred at parks and playgrounds over a 5-year period (2010-2015). Estimated via multivariate logistic regression, results showed support for these law's assumptions when analyzing this particular location. However, stranger perpetrators were significantly more likely to sexually assault adult victims versus youth victims. Several other offense features distinguished youth versus adult victim sexual assault incidents at parks and playgrounds, such as the offender age, the use of force, and the injuries sustained by the victim. Collectively, these findings both support and challenge these types of social space restriction laws.
Chapter
This chapter provides an overview of the existing sex offender legislation, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses; such laws pertaining to mandatory registration, public notification, civil commitment, and residency restrictions are discussed, as well as their financial, social, and psychological implications for offenders, their families, and their respective communities. Overall, there appears to be an unnerving lack of evidence-based legislation that effectively prevents sexual violence, instead focusing on punitive restrictions on individuals who have already offended. Therefore, alternatives to the current legislation are introduced, setting the stage for the second half of this book. Primary and secondary interventions and their relative effectiveness compared to current legislation are discussed, and parallels are drawn between intervention efforts in the public health field and criminal justice policy.
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To date, scholars have simply inferred the beliefs underlying sex offender laws from the passage and content of the legislation. Few researchers have directly spoken to legislators to determine their opinions of the sex offender problem. This study seeks to determine the perceptions of sex offenders and sex offending in the 1990s that drove the need for sex offender reform in Illinois and the degree to which these perceptions influenced the content of the laws. The findings suggest that policy makers had very distinct ideas about the nature of the sex offender problem in terms of who was responsible, who was in need of protection, and the degree to which legislative responses would address the issue. There was congruence between these personal perceptions and the content of sex offender laws. The results shed light on the degree to which public officials' personal perceptions influence the passage and content of legislation.
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The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is committed to improving the justice system's response to crimes against children. OJJDP recognizes that children are at increased risk for crime victimization. Not only are children the vic- tims of many of the same crimes that victimize adults, they are subject to other crimes, like child abuse and neglect, that are specific to childhood. The impact of these crimes on young victims can be devastating, and the violent or sexual victimization of children can often lead to an intergenerational cycle of violence and abuse. The purpose of OJJDP's Crimes Against Children Series is to improve and expand the nation's efforts to better serve child victims by presenting the latest information about child victimization, including analyses of crime victimization statistics, studies of child victims and their spe- cial needs, and descriptions of programs and approaches that address these needs.
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Sex offenders and sex crimes provoke a great deal of anxiety in our society, and over the past decade, lawmakers have passed a variety of social policies designed to protect the public from sexual victimization. The purpose of this study was to examine public perceptions about sex offenders and community protection policies. Data were obtained from a sample of 193 residents in Melbourne, Florida. It was hypothesized that the public holds some inaccurate beliefs about sex offenders, and that there is strong public support for community protection policies. It was found that community members believe that sex offenders have very high recidivism rates, view sex offenders as a homogeneous group with regard to risk, and are skeptical about the benefits of sex offender treatment. The hypothesis that public perceptions contradict empirical research was supported. Community members were overwhelmingly in favor of public disclosure of information about registered sex offenders, although they did not express as much support for residence restrictions. Implications for public policy, and for the media's role in shaping public perceptions, are discussed.
Article
In an effort to reduce sex offense recidivism, local and state governments have recently passed legislation prohibiting sex offenders from living within a certain distance (500 to 2,500 feet) of child congregation locations such as schools, parks, and daycare centers. Examining the potential deterrent effects of a residency restrictions law in Minnesota, this study analyzed the offense patterns of every sex offender released from Minnesota correctional facilities between 1990 and 2002 who was reincarcerated for a new sex offense prior to 2006. Given that not one of the 224 sex offenses would have likely been prevented by residency restrictions, the findings from this study provide little support for the notion that such restrictions would significantly reduce sexual recidivism.
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STL is a filtering procedure for decomposing a time series into trend, seasonal, and remainder components. STL has a simple design that consists of a sequence of applications of the loess smoother; the simplicity allows analysis of the properties of the procedure and allows fast computation, even for very long time series and large amounts of trend and seasonal smoothing. Other features of STL are specification of amounts of seasonal and trend smoothing that range, in a nearly continuous way, from a very small amount of smoothing to a very large amount; robust estimates of the trend and seasonal components that are not distorted by aberrant behavior in the data; specification of the period of the seasonal component to any integer multiple of the time sampling interval greater than one; and the ability to decompose time series with missing values.
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A sample of 20 adult sexual offenders were interviewed about the process whereby they selected, recruited and maintained children in a sexual abuse situation. Offenders were selected if they were making "successful" progress in treatment in order that they might be less likely to distort their descriptions. Offenders were interviewed by their therapist in a community treatment program using a semistructured interview guide. Results suggest that this sample of offenders claim a special ability to identify vulnerable children, to use that vulnerability to sexually use a child that sexual abuse is inherently coercive, even though many offender statements minimize the level of coercion and violence, and that offenders systematically desensitize children to touch. Implications for prevention of sexual abuse are highlighted.
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Meta-analyses were performed on 12 studies of treatment with sexual offenders (N = 1,313). A small, but robust, overall effect size was found for treatment versus comparison conditions (r = .12). The overall recidivism rate for treated sexual offenders was .19 versus .27 for untreated sexual offenders. Treatment effect sizes across studies, however, were heterogeneous. Effect sizes were larger in studies that had higher base rates of recidivism, had follow-up periods longer than 5 years, included outpatients, and involved cognitive-behavioral or hormonal treatments. Cognitive-behavioral (p < .0005) and hormonal treatments (p < .00005) were significantly more effective than behavioral treatments but were not significantly different from each other.