The Division of Parole and Probation in Maryland is requiring about 1,200 registered violent and child-sex offenders to post a sign reading “No candy at this residence” on their house before Oct. 31. Registrants are also required to stay at home on Halloween with their outdoor lights off and to not answer their doors.
This is national news, and it has been greeted with roars of approval from some sides and jeers from others. The reasons for it are obvious. Children go from door to door, trick-or-treating with strangers, and the possibility that some of these strangers might be a sex offender is enough to make any parent nervous.
Those in favor say that sex offenders are already registered, that a dedicated parent can find the names of neighborhood offenders in official databases anyway, that the only people being hurt by this gave up their freedom the day they acted on their impulses. Nobody is going to shed any tears over the loss of a sex offender’s privacy. But does this make it OK?
The only difference between a registered sex offender and an uncaught or potential sex offender is that the former of them is registered. Also, “sex offender” and “pedophile” are not synonymous. Technically an eighteen-year-old who has sex with a seventeen-year-old has committed statutory rape in California, for instance. That “no candy” sign is nothing short of a scarlet letter, and the label of sex offender is not something neighbors will forget.
Naysayers point out that there has never been a reported Halloween child molestation case, and this makes sense. Halloween is high profile. Children almost as a rule travel with adult chaperones. This nervousness is only paranoia, and registrants are suffering an unprecedented breach of privacy to soothe it.
These signs do not make anybody safer. If anything, they serve to stoke up an irrational fear at the thought of one of those pumpkin signs appearing on a neighbor door. This country has shown before that the populace is often willing to give up freedoms for the illusion of safety.
And for those of you who say bah-humbug on Halloween, think twice before you put up that sign that says “no candy.”