Halloween safety a social responsibility, concern
Published: Saturday, October 29, 2011
Updated: Sunday, October 30, 2011 21:10
Halloween can be a child's best night but a parent's worst nightmare. The popular saying "don't talk to strangers" is somewhat disregarded during Halloween, as parents allow their children to walk door to door and receive candy from neighbors. There is, of course, a risk attached to the Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating. We are all too familiar with the stories of razor blades and poison in taffy apples and Halloween candy. These types of situations have been rare in Halloween history, but they do still exist as possible realities for parents to consider.
Then, there is the notion of registered sex offenders participating in Halloween. Whether they are handing out candy or trick-or-treating with their own children, sex offenders are often stigmatized and feared by their neighbors. Just last year, the Volusia County Sheriff's Office received calls from community members when a registered sex offender decided to take his child trick-or-treating. In the Volusia County situation, the police department could not take action because the sex offender was no longer on probation. And so the question at hand is, should sex offender laws be stricter in Florida? This ultimately becomes an issue of big government enforcement versus social responsibility. Though I do feel that the government can play a vital role in protecting the lives of its citizens, this is a situation where social responsibility comes first.
In the state of Florida, a sex offender is defined as any person convicted of committing, attempting, conspiring or soliciting to commit a violation found within Florida Statute 943.0435. The following are examples of violations that would define an individual as a sex offender: procuring a person under the age of 18 for prostitution, owning computer pornography involving a minor, sexual performance by a child of less than 18 years of age and luring or enticing a child under the age of 12 into a dwelling for an unlawful purpose. Without a doubt, the last violation is one that parents are most fearful of during Halloween.
Once an individual is convicted of being a sex offender, he or she is required by law to register in person with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or sheriff's office within 48 hours of moving to a new permanent or temporary residence. Failure by the offender to register is actually considered a third degree felony. According to the Florida Legislature this information is made public and available online because sex offenders "often pose a high risk of engaging in sexual offenses even after being released from incarceration."
Many states would second that notion, and as Halloween approaches, we are seeing local law enforcement take action. In Alabama, a southeast county has ordered nearly a quarter of the county's registered sex offenders — those either on parole or probation — to spend three hours of Halloween night at their own little party in the county commission chambers. In Virginia, the Loudon County Sheriff's Office has initiated "Operation Porch Lights Out," which prohibits violators on probation or parole from turning on their porch lights, answering their doors for trick-or-treaters or displaying "inviting" decorations on Halloween.
These tactics are all designed as means to keep children safe, but ultimately the best way to keep kids safe is for parents to take responsibility for their child's own safety. The government can only do so much to offer protection, and in all honesty, anyone could become a sex offender. Stigmatizing and focusing our efforts on past offenders may lead us to overlook those who could become one in the future.
Happy Halloween, and let it be a safe one.