TDOC, Law Enforcement Launch ‘Operation Blackout’ Aimed at Registered Sex Offenders Halloween restrictions for sex offenders are common, but do they really make sense?

Halloween restrictions for sex offenders are common, but do they really make sense?STEVEN HALE OCT 24, 2016 4 PM4 Tweet ShareEmbed from Getty Images

Punishment for registered sex offenders extend well beyond any jail time they serve. The most obvious example is their placement on public state sex offender registries, which can include some people guilty of heinous crimes against children and others whose stories are far more complicated.

For the individuals on such registries, Halloween means more restrictions and, in Tennessee, a likely visit from law enforcement. The Tennessee Department of Correction announced this afternoon that it is launching its annual Operation Blackout, “an intensive, statewide sweep aimed at adding extra accountability for sex offenders to ensure their compliance to rules and regulations during the Halloween season.” TDOC probation parole officers and local law enforcement officials “will conduct unannounced visits and compliance checks throughout the week, including more than 1,100 on the night of Halloween.”

Per a release from TDOC, seasonal restrictions for sex offenders include:

  • Will remain in their homes between the hours of 6:00p.m.-6:00a.m.
  • Will not have porch lights on as is the custom to participate in trick-or-treating.
  • Will not open their doors for trick-or-treaters.
  • Will only open their doors for law enforcement.
  • Will not be allowed to display fall decorations.
  • Will not be allowed to wear costumes or dress in disguise.
  • Will not be allowed to attend fall festivals or parties.

In 2015, according to the release, TDOC probation parole officers conducted more than 3,000 checks on sex offenders during the operating.

“The safety of Tennessee neighborhoods is our number one priority, and we work daily to ensure offenders are in compliance,” says TDOC Commissioner Tony Parker. “Operation Blackout enhances that work and sends a message to offenders that we will do whatever is necessary to protect our children and our communities.”

If that all seems unquestionably sensible — after all, Halloween is a time when children walk around freely in the dark accepting gifts from strangers — then its worth reading Anat Rubin’s piece from last year on Halloween restrictions for sex offenders.

The laws began to proliferate nationwide in the 1990s

, when the fear of a predator who lures young children into his home with candy arose amid other concerns, such as poisoned treats and razor blades in apples.

“Going back decades, there is this sense that there are these dangers to children on Halloween,” said Jill Levenson, a clinical social worker and associate professor at Barry University in Florida.But studies have shown that more than 90% of children who are sexually abused know their abuser

, who is often a family member or close acquaintance. A Bureau of Justice Statistics report showed that only 7% of those who sexually abused juveniles were strangers to their victims.

Levenson co-authored a study

 that examined the Halloween effect by looking at sex crimes against children between 1997 to 2005. The researchers analyzed more than 67,000 crimes in which the perpetrators were strangers, acquaintances and neighbors. 

In a year-by-year comparison that zeroed in on Halloween, the researchers found no variation in number or types of crimes committed, even as more laws were added.

Jesse Walker at Reason has also written about law enforcement enabling baseless, if understandable, fear around Halloween. A 2009 study he cites found “no significant increase in risk for non-familial child sexual abuse on or around Halloween” and led researchers to question “the wisdom of diverting law enforcement resources to attend to a problem that does not appear to exist.” 

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