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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Assumptions, Myths and Fear 2014 Edition: 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

 
It’s October 1st  and the first thing that comes to mind (sadly) is the anticipated news articles and news segments by the Virginia media on Halloween safety and the risk of the neighborhood “Sex Offender” listed on the VSP Registry steeped with myth, hype and fear. 

There have already been some Internet searches on the subject that have lead folks to this blog so I feel obligated to post the same information I have shared with Virginia news outlet for the last few years  for the second time on this blog. 

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

Fact:
 
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-Department of Corrections supervised Probation must report to their Districts Probation Office on Halloween. 

Fact:

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.

Fact:

In past years by October 1st the VA-DOC  has not even completed 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 scheduled to work.
 
It is not a black and white / right or wrong situation and the Virginia media should stop running news stories as if it is. 

Myth #4: 

Registered offenders are looking for new victims on Halloween.

Fact:

As of Halloween 2013 there has not been one case of a Registered Sex Offender abducting, molesting or re-offending in Virginia or in any of the 49 other states either.
 

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! 

One day an RSO might do the unthinkable and abduct or molest a stranger on Halloween and if that does happen because their photo, residence, fingerprints, vehicle information and DNA is already on file by the authorities they would be rapidly apprehended. But we should not continue to round up citizens who are not incarcerated to “lock them down” for a 4-6 hour period every Halloween because of a past conviction.  

Prevention is a noble goal but there is no crystal ball of future crimes or of future perpetrators and the state should stop wasting funds on DOC projects like Operation Trick or Treat and Operation Porch Lights Out.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again because it’s fact 

If Virginia is going to continue to single-out 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 year's 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. 

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 holiday without fear of backlash from strangers or neighbors who feel the need to shame the parent listed on the registry. 

Let us hope if Virginia news outlets feel the need to show a page from the Virginia State Police Sex Offender Registry for a Halloween story that instead of showing the faces, names and addresses of arbitrary citizens who are just trying to survive and provide for their families the news channels either show the page of “wanted” offenders providing a public service to capture a fugitive or they blur out the faces, names and addresses of those they pull off the Internet.  

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:

Keep in mind in past years the Virginia State Police has partnered with the U.S. Marshal’s to do residential compliance checks the day before Halloween, the day of and the day after.
 
So your VSP Compliance Officer could show up with an entourage to intentionally make a scene in front of your entire neighborhood, under the guise of public safety. It makes quite a spectacle with numerous people exiting their vehicles in flak-jackets and guns on their hips. 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 not be revived. If you are not on Probation and you are not “Wanted”, then you are not required by law to let the VSP Officer or the U.S. Marshal enter your residence but you should do your best to make the uncomfortable situation as pleasant as possible for everyone including your family members, room-mates and neighbors. 

Finally, I’m sure this will not be my only post about Halloween for 2014 as with past years there have been some very well written articles (2010-2013) on the myth and the stupidity of the holiday restrictions and fears surrounding RSO’s and I’ll be sure to post any 2014 articles on the issue. 

Mary Devoy