Safety experts and law enforcement say sex offenders aren’t the biggest danger to children on Halloween, but that hasn’t stopped states from taking steps to limit the offenders’ access to children and holiday activities. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
Safety experts and law enforcement say sex offenders aren’t the biggest danger to children on Halloween, but that hasn’t stopped states from taking steps to limit the offenders’ access to children and holiday activities. David T. Foster III dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Durham County

Real Halloween fears? Safety, law enforcement officials say this one is rare.

By Tammy Grubb

tgrubb@heraldsun.com

October 30, 2017 02:17 PM

UPDATED October 30, 2017 05:55 PM

DURHAM

There are a lot of things to fear on Halloween, but the danger that your children might face from sexual offenders is not one of them, experts say

Traffic is a biggest danger, according to the National Safety Council. Statistics show that children are more than twice as likely to be hit by a car and killed on Halloween than any other day of the year, the NSC reports. A national report published this year showed roughly 22 percent of the 6,700 pedestrians killed in 2015 were kids ages 5 to 15 who darted or ran into the road.

In contrast, sexual assaults on children involving strangers are rare. Celeste Kelly, judicial district manager with the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, said she doesn’t remember any in more than 25 years with District 14, covering Durham, Orange and Chatham counties.

In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports family members and acquaintances commit about 93 percent of the sexual crimes against children.

Never miss a local story.

Sign up today for unlimited digital access to our website, apps, the digital newspaper and more

Still, some states place special restrictions on sex offenders every Oct. 31. The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focused on the criminal system, credits fears about sexual predators luring children into their homes with spurring states to enact “no candy” laws in the 1990s.

This year, for example, the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services has set a 5:30 to 9 p.m. curfew for offenders on probation or parole. Those offenders also must turn off their outside lights and refrain from handing out candy or attending Halloween gatherings.

North Carolina had a “Lights Out” campaign until 2005 that also included mandatory classes for some offenders, Kelly said. Now, they deal with the individual conditions of each person’s probation.

“We tell them to cut the lights out. We tell them not to pass out candy and things like that, because it’s in the best interest of the offender, not just the kids,” Kelly said. “But there is no law for us to say, hey, you can’t pass out candy.”

She noted there also are more officers on duty on Halloween night, visiting registered sex offenders at random as part of their normal residential checks and being more visible in the community. Durham Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs noted the courts may order required checks and other more specific restrictions on some offenders.

State Bureau of Investigation records show there are 288 registered sex offenders in Alamance County, 91 in Orange County and 69 in Chatham County. Durham County has 374 registered sex offenders, Gibbs said.

Sex offenders who have completed their probation or parole still must comply with state laws, including:

▪ No activities in the home that might leave a sex offender in the care or custody of children, such as hosting Halloween parties where children are going to be dropped off.

▪ Stay away from places where children regularly attend or congregate, such as a school, library or amusement park. That includes attending Halloween carnivals and “trunk or treat” events in the community, Gibbs said.

If that doesn’t ease your concerns about trick or treating in your neighborhood, law enforcement officials say a good practice is checking the state’s sex offender registry website for local houses to avoid before heading out with your children.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

Check the registry

Parents concerned about their children’s safety can find registered sex offenders in their neighborhood at sexoffender.ncsbi.gov/search.aspx.