Sunday, September 29, 2013

Assumptions, Myths and Fear: Halloween in Virginia as the Parent, the Spouse, the Roommate or the Child of a Registered Sex Offender Can Be Extremely Frustrating, Difficult and Dangerous

This weekend neighbors on every street were decorating for Halloween and it’s not even October 1st! 

Well, they aren’t the only ones to get an early start: 4 days ago I composed and sent a preemptive email notice to numerous Virginia Media Outlets.

It was about Halloween, Registered Sex Offenders in Virginia and myth versus fact about the holiday. I sent a similar email back in 2009, 2010 and 2011 but took a break in 2012 to see what type of coverage would occur without a notice going out. 

It was an effort to quash incorrect information and/or false assumptions being broadcast this year under the guise of “Halloween Safety”.  

Here it is: 

Myth #1: 

All Registered Sex Offenders in Virginia are prohibited from participating in Halloween activities.
-          Decorating their home
-          Porch Lights on
-          Handing out candy
-          Wearing a costume 

Registered Sex Offenders who are NOT under VA-DOC supervised Probation (the majority of them) can decorate their home, have their front light on and give out candy to trick-or-treaters. So can their spouse, parents, room-mates or children at that same address. 
Myth #2: 

Virginia offenders who are under VA-DOC supervised Probation must report to their Districts Probation Office on Halloween. 

As of December 1, 2012, there were 19,530 sex offenders listed on the Virginia State Police Sex Offender Registry.
-          3,536 registrants under the purview of the Department of Corrections Probation and Parole Services
-          7,699 sex offenders whose registration and verifications are the responsibility of the Department of State Police
-          8,295 registrants who are incarcerated in jails or prisons across the state
Every VA- DOC Probation District handles Halloween differently.  

1.       Some districts run Operation Trick Not Treat (TNT) where they require registered offenders to come to their offices during the hours of 4:30pm to 9:00pm on October 31 to conduct educational sessions, drug and alcohol screenings, address supervision issues and provide custodial searches of offenders and oversight of any existing warrants. 

Family members and room-mates of Operation TNT participants can decorate their home, have their front light on and give out candy to trick-or-treaters while the RSO is away from the property. 

2.      Some districts require registered offenders to participate in Operation Porch Light Out. Those offenders are required not to participate in any Halloween activities, to remain in their homes with their porch lights out and they may not answer the door for trick-or-treaters on October 31. To ensure offender compliance, the DOC Probation and Parole Officers along with law enforcement officers make home spot checks. 
Myth #3: 

The Registered Sex Offenders who are under VA-DOC supervised Probation know that their district’s probation office is participating in Operation Trick or Treat or Operation Porch Lights Out so if they are in violation on October 31st it is their fault. 

In past years by October 1st the VA-DOC does not have a list of which districts will be observing which program. Which means the Registered Offenders do not know what they are required to do or where they are required to be. 

Some district’s call the offenders home and leave a message and some districts send a letter via regular U.S. mail. Many of these phone calls and letters in past years have arrived on October 31 when the RSO is at work. 

It is not a black and white / right or wrong situation.
Myth #4: 

Registered offenders are looking for new victims on Halloween. 

As of last year there has not been one case of a Registered Sex Offender re-offending in Virginia or in any of the 49 other states on Halloween. 

The simple fact is, these feel-good programs like Operation Trick or Treat or Operation Porch Lights Out cost the taxpayers additional money and are completely unnecessary. America is not supposed to punish through fear or myth, we’re supposed to punish through fact. 

The goal of these VA-DOC programs as repeatedly stated from 2002 to 2012 by the different DOC spokespeople is “no new victims”; I predict they will state the same this year. 

Sometimes in the rush to feel better we miss the obvious question. Before these two programs existed and since they’ve been implemented have any of Virginia’s children ever been abducted, molested or killed on Halloween night by a Registered Sex Offender? The answer both before and after implementation, is No! 

Fact: Nine out of ten sex offenses are perpetrated by someone the victim already knows and trusts, not a stranger. 

Fact: More than 93% of sex offenses that will be committed in the next 12 months are by a first time offender, not a person already on the registry. 

These simple facts add up to a strange but undeniable truth, simply persecuting those listed on the registry only spends taxpayer’s money and does nothing to make Virginia safer.  

If Virginia is going to continue to persecute and round up citizens because of something they might do, then why don’t we regularly round-up every citizen that has ever had a DUI or DWI on New Years Eve? It doesn’t matter if they committed the offense 5, 10, 15, 20 or 25 years ago, it’s New Years Eve and they have a history of drinking and driving then our government can’t trust them not to drink and drive on this the most tempting day of the year, same theory. 

These two VA- DOC Halloween programs perpetuate the urban myth that there are predators in our community lying in wait for some child to enter into their trap. 

For years parents were afraid of the razor blades in an apple myth that have been circulated for decades without any evidential support. The main problem is this tactic gives the community a false sense of security thinking that violent sexual predators are being incapacitated when in fact that the very real threat that exists within victim’s homes is ignored. 

Our Government has singled out a group of people and used them as an easy platform to win elections and instill fear into the parents of our state so that they will look like heroes and you all have fallen for it. Recidivism rates for Sex Offenders are the second to the lowest of any crime but yet they are used as story lines regularly.

1.         Vehicle Thefts, 78.8%*
2.        Selling stolen property, 77.4%*
3.        Burglary, 74%*
4.        Larceny, 74.6%*
5.        Possessing stolen weapons, 70.2%*
6.        Robbery, 70.2%*
7.         Domestic Battery, 41%**
8.        Drugs, 27%*
9.        Rape 2.5%* / Sexual Assault or Rape 5.3%**
10.   Murder 1.2%*

*   - 2002 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics         **   - 2003 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics
** - 2000 Edward Gondolf, Reassault at 30-Months after Batterer Program Intake, 44 Int'l J. of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
Just because an address is listed on the Virginia Sex Offender Registry via a phone app doesn’t mean that the person answering the door is the offender, it is most likely their spouse, parents, children or room-mate and they don’t deserve to be harassed by angry adults who have been mislead that they can’t give out candy or have the police called to their home. Many RSO’s actually hide upstairs in their homes on Halloween so their children can enjoy the evening without fear of backlash from strangers or neighbors. 

Also for you television stations, if you feel the need to show a page from the Virginia State Police Sex Offender Registry instead of randomly showing the faces, names and addresses of citizens who are just trying to survive and provide for their families either show the wanted page and do a public service to capture a fugitive or blur out the faces, names and addresses. If a specific person is not part of your news story then leave them alone, they’ve paid their debt to society and misuse of the Virginia Sex Offender Registry to intimidate or harass is actually a crime. 

Like the groundhog seeing his shadow to predict the length of winter. We all know its complete baloney, hogwash, poppycock, a farce, a logical fallacy, a red herring but yet media outlets repeat the absurd effort each and every year because it’s tradition. 

Study: How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters? An Analysis of Child Sex Crime Rates on Halloween, by Mark Chaffin, Jill Levenson, Elizabeth Letourneau, and Paul Stern, July 6, 2009:

Article: Sex offenders: Halloween’s boogeyman
Registered abusers are being rounded up tonight to protect trick-or-treaters. How real is the threat, though?

So, now we all get to sit back and wait. 

Let’s hope that any article or broadcast will deliver facts not fear and if they do show a glimpse of the registry they don’t plaster a random offenders name, face or address across the screen they at least go to the wanted page. 

Don’t forget that for the last few years the Virginia State Police has partnered with the U.S. Marshal’s to do compliance checks on the day before Halloween, the day of and the day after. It makes quite a neighborhood spectacle with numerous people exiting vehicles in flak-jackets and Troopers in full uniform and marked vehicles. I’ve heard from numerous parents, spouses and offenders over the years and when these checks happen on the actual holiday it creates a terrible atmosphere for the kids, the holiday spirit is squashed and can’t be revived. 

I’m sure this won’t be my only Halloween post but just in case, Happy Halloween everybody!