October 31, 2008

Pendulum swing on Halloween hype?

In a counterpoint to my Halloween post yesterday, Grits for Breakfast has a roundup of critiques of the "annual, mostly fact-free media hype surrounding registered sex offenders and Halloween." Comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live and Jay Leno deserve some of the credit for lampooning the ridiculous restrictions and causing some officials to back down.

For example, after being the butt of jokes on Saturday Night Live, officials in Maryland backed off of their annual ritual of forcing registered sex offenders to post a bright orange sign on their doors, stating in capital letters: "NO CANDY AT THIS RESIDENCE."

"Laughing at stupid public policies is sometimes the best way to influence public opinion, so I'm glad to know the Saturday Night Live piece struck a nerve and many in the public apparently see through the hype. After all, trick or treaters are statistically much more likely to be hit by lightning than molested by a registered sex offender while soliciting candy," comments Scott Henson over at Grits.

Henson calls the farcical crackdowns an example of "security theater," or "hyping (and pretending to solve) a threat that in reality is extremely remote, even to the point of diverting resources from policing activities like DWI enforcement that would protect more people and save more lives."

Another sign that the pendulum may be swinging was a U.S. District Court judge's grant of temporary injunctions against two provisions of a Missouri law banning sex offenders from having any "Halloween-related contact" with children.

Judge Carol Jackson called the provisions unconstitutionally vague. According to the Wall Street Journal's law blog, the judge was concerned that sex offenders might be punished for engaging in Halloween-related activities with their own children, such as "carving a pumpkin in the privacy of your kitchen with your 5-year-old child." She questioned whether such parents might have to send their kids away on Halloween to avoid prosecution.

The challenge was brought by the ACLU of Eastern Missouri on behalf of four convicted sex offenders. As I reported on Tuesday, civil rights attorneys are devoting more and more of their resources to protecting the rights of society's most vilified citizens; these lawyers will deserve the lion's share of credit if the pendulum does begin to swing back toward rationality.

Speaking at last week's Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) conference in Atlanta, attorney Sarah Geraghty of the Southern Center for Human Rights said she never would have foreseen that her career would take this direction, but she is happy that it did because she thinks she has found her life's calling.

Grits for Breakfast has extensive coverage and links on the Halloween hysteria and responses.

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