Fact Or Fiction: Do People Commit More Sex Crimes On Halloween?

Every year around Halloween, the media starts running story after story warning parents to watch out for sex offenders who plan to exploit the holiday as a means of preying upon children. Concerns about this have even prompted lawmakers in many parts of the country to pass laws that restrict the activities of convicted sex offenders on Halloween, or that require police to check up on them during Trick or Treat hours. All of this media panic and legislation has prompted some researchers to wonder whether there really is reason to be extra worried at this time of year.

In a recent study, national crime rate statistics from 1997-2005 were analyzed in order to determine whether sex offenders are actually taking advantage of this holiday in order to harm children [1]. The researchers looked specifically at various forms of rape and sexual assault across each of these years involving victims ages 12 and younger and perpetrators who were not part of the victims' families (the data were restricted in this way because the primary concern with Halloween-related sex offenses involves strangers). Halloween was defined as a three-day period, which included Halloween itself and the two preceding days, in order to account for variations in which day of the week the holiday falls and when trick-or-treating is scheduled.

For each of the 9 years of data, the results revealed no significant increase in sex offenses on Halloween or any of the days leading up to it. Moreover, the nature of the sex crimes committed on Halloween was no different from average.

To be perfectly clear, I am not suggesting (nor are the authors of the research suggesting) that Halloween poses no risk for sexual violence or that no one has ever tried to exploit the holiday in this way. Rather, what the data reveal is that there is no evidence that the risk is any greater during this holiday. This is not to say that we should drop our enhanced vigilance on October 31st; however, we might want to consider whether there might be more effective ways to apply that vigilance. For instance, our efforts might have greater effect if they were instead directed toward known risks, such as the fact that kids have a significantly increased risk of being hit by cars on this day. Compared to all other days of the year, children are four times as likely to be struck and killed by a motor vehicle on Halloween [2]--that's obviously a major risk, but one that few are talking about. Also, if we are really concerned about using seasonal trends in sex offenses in order to inform law enforcement efforts, we should focus on where the peaks in sexual violence are (there's actually a pretty reliable spike that occurs during the summer months--well in advance of Halloween--so perhaps that's where we should be directing extra law enforcement efforts).

In short, there doesn't seem to be much to back up the idea that there are more sex crimes on Halloween, and all of the media panic about this appears to be overshadowing the known risks to children's safety.

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[1] Chaffin, M., Levenson, J., Letourneau, E., & Stern, P. (2009). How safe are trick-or-treaters? An analysis of child sex crime rates on Halloween. Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 21, 363-374.

[2] Centers for Disease Control. (1997). Childhood pedestrian deaths during Halloween—United States, 1975-1996. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 46, 987-990.

Image Credit: 123RF.com

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