The Halloween Sex Offender Myth

by Diane Dimond on October 24, 2011

Halloween Fun! But Not For All

The spookiest time of the year is fast approaching and you have likely already heard about local law enforcement officers preparing to keep your area free of danger on Halloween night.

They may be visiting schools to counsel kids on safe practices, they may be warning drivers about watching out for children on Halloween night and in communities across America officers are fanning out to knock on the doors of registered sex offenders.

The idea behind visiting local S.O.’s (as they are referred to) is twofold.

First, it’s a transparent effort to check that the address police have on record for the ex-offender is still good. Second, it is a somber face-to-face warning to the S.O. that they are not allowed to interact with children on Halloween.

Police Mandated Posters For Sex Offender Windows

Laws vary from state to state but generally speaking those convicted of sex offenses are not allowed to decorate the outside of their homes or leave their outdoor lights on Halloween night. Most S.O.’s arerequired to display a poster in the front window saying they are not giving out candy or any other treats.  In some states there is a mandatory shut-in order for them from sundown to midnight.

This has become an annual ritual between cops and ex-cons.  But you know what?  It’s a waste of time. You read that right.  There has never been a concrete reason given that explains why a sex offender would choose the very public holiday of Halloween to re-offend.

More importantly, I couldn’t find a single report of a child being sexually attacked by a stranger during a Halloween party or during door-to-door trick-or-treating.

Look, the shameful crime of child molestation happens countless times every single day in this country but, honestly, there’s no evidence that the mystical day of Halloween sparks extra sex crimes. That doesn’t mean it’s a day to drop our guard, of course, but it is not a day to go looking for stranger-danger boogeymen that aren’t there.

A Speeding Car Here is a Real Danger

It’s much more likely that your child could be struck by a car Halloween night or fall victim to tooth decay from eating all their loot.

The idea that spider web decorations, carved pumpkins and costumed citizens somehow incites crimes against children reminds me of the urban legend that grew up around tainted Halloween candy.  Remember that hue and cry?    We now know that only two deaths of children have ever been traced to poisoned Halloween candy and both deaths were caused by family members.

After Halloween in 1970, in Detroit, five year old Kevin Toston fell into a coma and died of a heroin overdose. Lab analysis of his candy bag contents showed they had been sprinkled with heroin.  Officers later discovered the boy had stumbled upon his uncle’s drug stash and had accidentally poisoned himself.  In an effort to protect the uncle the family had dusted the child’s candy stash with heroin.

Ronald O'Bryan Poisoned His Own Boy in 1974

And, in 1974, Timothy O’Bryan of Houston, Texas died after eating a Pixie Stix laced with cyanide.  Turned out his father had deliberately tampered with the candy to collect on the 8 year olds life insurance policy.  It was a homegrown homicide and, despite all the media reports to the contrary, not the work of diabolical criminals bent on poisoning children.  (By the way, Ronald O’Bryan was convicted of murdering his son in 1975 and was executed in 1984.)

The Los Angeles Times quotes Joel Best, a professor of sociology at California State University, as saying he’s been trying to debunk the Halloween candy myth for more than thirty years.   His research found a total of 78 cases of “poisoned candy” between 1958 and 1988.  Two were the deaths I’ve just explained above and the rest, according to Professor Best, were proven pranks.

Halloween Cop Knock in NY, 2009

I can’t tell you where or when this Halloween sex offender myth began but it persists to this day. Every year at this time newspapers and TV news programs are full of reports about police activities to curb this so-called menace that supposedly sprouts up every October 31st.   And in some areas of the country the U.S. Marshalls service pitches in to make the S.O. house calls.  It’s become an annual media staple much like covering fireworks on 4th of July or the Thanksgiving Day parade.

Constant Scrutiny for SO's

When you remove diagnosed career pedophiles from the mix (and in my opinion they should never be released from prison and they often are not) most convicted sex offenders do not re-offend.  They work to comply with complicated sex offender registry regulations and their parole officer’s rules. They try hard to blend in to their community where rebuilding their life by finding a job, a place to live and even a church at which to worship can be difficult.

I think it goes without saying that our police officers have better and more important things to do every Halloween season.   But it’s worth saying anyway.   Let’s free up law enforcement from this annual charade so they can concentrate on the real criminals in our neighborhoods. home

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

N.Georgia October 24, 2011 at 9:09 am

Thank you! To bad 90% of the people will say you are in favor of S.O’s . You can read the hype evey year around this time.

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Diane Dimond October 24, 2011 at 9:22 am

ABQ Journal Reader Rudy101 writes:

“Thank you. I am taking YOUR word for it that there are no cases of a registered or non-registered sex offender molesting a child because he came to his door. I am taking your word for it, because proving a negative is difficult indeed.

But, what it shows is government’s ability to regulate people out of the community or every social aspect of community simply upon an assertion.

Do you think the laws will stop? Do you think a legislature ANY legislature will stop with sex offender laws?

The answer is: NO.

Why? Because you are not a free country at all. Legislatures have the power to determine freedom, without hearing or trial. All they need is a list and an assertion.

The registry has NO CREDIBILITY because dangerousness has been defined exclusively by a legislature and applied even decades AFTER a sentence.

Non-credible laws do NOT have to be followed. ONLY despots would throw someone into jail for having a portch light on or trying to participate in community activities. Does the U.S. truly think they will not be the laughing stock of the world?

It isn’t what is being done, BUT HOW it is done. You guys messed up so bad and think you are living in the times where Jim Crow laws are just another piece of legislation. Your registry is finished the way it is now. It can’t stand the test of scrutiny as it is applied to individuals. It is what the registry will do everything in its power to deny and the rope that will hang the registry.”

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Diane Dimond October 24, 2011 at 9:24 am

Creators Syndicate Web Reader rwsmom writes:

“Ms. Dimond!
You never cease to amaze me! Thank you so much for reaching out and de-bunking the media hysteria!
You are right, there has NEVER been a child molested or abducted on Halloween by a sex offender, or as I call them, registrant.
I truly wish the general public would open their eyes and see the minimal offenses that are labeling people as sex offenders. People who relieve themselves in the bushes while fishing/camping, teenagers in underage relationships, men falsely accused by ex wives wanting custody of their children, parents taking pictures of their children in the bath tub, people being sent inappropriate emails or going to the wrong websites, people streaking at ball games or mooning someone…….the list goes on and on! Until the citizens of this country realize that these laws are affecting more children than they are protecting, the laws will continue to grow because lawmakers are hiding behind them to gain votes and the media to gain notoriety.
Thank you again for telling the truth!
Blessings!”

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Diane Dimond October 24, 2011 at 9:28 am

Dear rwsMom:
Thank you so much for writing. It has been my experience that when there is public hysteria about something it is best to see if it is borne of hysterical/copycat media reports. That’s what I found here when I dug in deep.

Every year reporters in cities across the land just take the annual Halloween trek of law enforcement to the doors of Sex Offenders as “normal”. But there isn’t anything to back it up! There is no real reason to single out SO on this holiday above all others. I mean, why not door knock known repetitive drunk drivers as they injure and kill Halloween revelers more than any other portion of the population?

If cops want to make sure sex offenders live where they say they do then PAROLE OFFICERS should have the answer as they are supposed to keep constant tabs on S.O.’s. (Don’t get me started on the abundance of people on the SO Registry that shouldn’t even be there)

Anyway, thanks for accepting the truth and not the MYTH of this annual exercise! ~ DD

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Diane Dimond October 24, 2011 at 9:25 am

Creators Syndicate Web Reader buchanan writes:

“I agree. The hysteria is out of control. This not only effects those required to register, but their entire family.
There must be a reasonable way to determine who might be a danger and stop punishing hundreds of thousands for the rare crimes of a few.
Almost all new offences are from those we don’t yet know about. Most offences occur in the family.
And I would think that those that happen in families will now go unreported, due to not wanting a family member to be labeled a monster.
How many offences are not reported? Why, there a thousands of underage relationships that go on everyday, but the law enforcement pick and choose which ones to proscecute. Those that are proscecuted, are deemed quilty even before a trial. Of all those that are on these registries, only a few pose any risk, Yet, their life is essentually over. The children in these families suffer the most. While saying we are protecting children, we are ruining thousands of chidren’s lives.”

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Diane Dimond October 24, 2011 at 9:26 am

Creators Syndicate Web Reader cherokee49 writes:

“I applaud your courage in standing up and showing yourself as a voice of reason. This is a subject that many would prefer to put on the back burner and go with the flow of paranoia and fear that is rampant in particular, at this time of the year. This is an extremely well researched and written article, which I am sure will be vehemently dragged over the coals by the uneducated masses, but digested and filed by the growing number of people who are actually willing to admit there is more to the label “s ex offender” than meets the eye. Again, thank you!”

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Diane Dimond October 24, 2011 at 9:29 am

Dear cherokee49:

You know its easy for the masses to follow the public sentiment as published year after year and shown on TV every Halloween season. But the facts are the facts. Halloween provides no more stimulus to sex offenders than any other day and the hoax of these annual police “raids” on SO’s homes needs to stop! The public’s money is much better spent on figuring out ways to get undeserving people OFF the needllessly bloated sex registry rolls! ~ DD

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Diane Dimond October 24, 2011 at 9:27 am

Creators Syndicate Web Reader sotomayor2013 writes:

“Thank you so much for spreading the word about the myths surrounding “sex offenders” and Halloween. It is so refreshing to read an article that debunks the media driven hysteria and puts the truth and statistics and supporting documentation out there for the public to see, read and reference.

I am very grateful, as the wife of a sex offender, it’s exhausting educating my friends, family, and the general public about the facts and stats. of sex offenders.

Thank you so much again, for this article. We need more people like you to help spread the word about all the myths surrounding sex offenders. I appreciate you and your work.”

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Diane Dimond October 24, 2011 at 9:31 am

Creators Syndicate Reader Shana:

“Great article. I’m the devoted girlfriend of an RSO, whom I live with and we own our house together.

This will be our first Halloween here, and I was looking forward to finally living in a place where we would get trick or treaters. But thanks to the local sheriff’s department, not only could my boyfriend be ARRESTED for opening the door, he could also be arrested if we even have candy in the house!! We also get to display a cute little sticker that says we’re not giving out candy.

Even though I am very very used to the ridiculous, unfounded hysteria that follows SOs around like a virus, this was a new one for me and didn’t cease to infuriate me. It’s sad that we can’t partake in a well-loved tradition, but worse is that the media seems to be getting people to buy into the hype. Thanks again for a non-biased, ACCURATE article depicting the true statistics behind sex offenders and Halloween.”

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Diane Dimond October 24, 2011 at 9:32 am

Dear Shana,

I’d be most interested to learn where you live…which county and in which state so I might target your local law enforcement for “enlightenment” ~DD

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Shana October 24, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Diane,
We live in Oneida County in the state of New York. If you do decide to contact law enforcement (which would be incredible and I couldn’t thank you enough), please let me know. I have to pick up said sticker on Wednesday and it’s going to be so hard for me to to not give them a piece of my mind!!
Shana

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Diane Dimond October 24, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Shana: I wish I could phone EVERY law enforcement office in the country and call them on this annual charade – but that’s impossible.

Suggestion? Print out my column and hand them several copies when you pick up your sticker!!! Just hand it to all the officers you see….ask for the desk sergeant and hand him or her one too. Just smile knowingly.

Then – drop one off at your local newspaper office!

Sorry for the trouble your family faces on this holiday.

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Diane Dimond October 24, 2011 at 9:46 am

Creators Syndicate Web Reader O’Really writes:

“I could tell you when the Halloween law hysteria began, Diane. On my website is a Halloween laws page at oncefllendotcom.

I’d like to point out something else as well.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel offers the only recorded incident of any child raped and killed while out trick-or-
treating. In 1973, a nine-year-old was killed by Gerald Turner, known as the “Halloween Killer.”

Because of Turner, Wisconsin residents hold trick-or-treating during daytime hours. However, the f/k/a Harvard Law Blog found two interesting things regarding the Turner case: The 9 year old girl was trick-or-treating alone and went to the house of a stranger, and Turner had no prior criminal record, so if such a law existed in 1973, the Halloween sex offender laws would not have applied to Turner.

Thus, to date there is STILL no recorded incident of a child molested or killed by a convicted sex offender on Halloween.

That had nothing to do with Virginia, which has the earliest recorded Halloween law, ‘Operation Trick No Treat” beginning 2002.

I’d like to point out there is one Halloween Laws study, Mark Chaffin, Jill Levenson, Elizabeth Letourneau and Paul Stern. “How safe are trick-or-treaters? An analysis on sex crime rates on Halloween.” This study found no significant increase in risk for nonfamilial child sexual abuse on or just prior to Halloween. Although sex offenders may use seemingly innocent opportunities to engage children and sexually abuse and therefore might be hypothesized to use trick-or-treat for ulterior purposes, this logic does not appear to translate into any actual unusual rate of sex offenses on Halloween.

The absence of a Halloween effect remained constant over the 9-year period, beginning well before the current interest in Halloween sex offender policies and extending to recent years. Any Halloween policies that have been adopted by reporting jurisdictions during that period appear not to have affected the overall sex offense rate.”

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Diane Dimond October 24, 2011 at 9:53 am

O’Really, thank you very much for this information. I had not discovered the Wisconsin case in my research.
By the way – the web site you left – oncefllen.com does not seem to be correct.
Please re-send so I can explore the site? Thanks again for the new information! ~ DD

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Diane Dimond October 24, 2011 at 9:47 am

Creators Syndicate Web Reader D writes:

“Thank you for posting this story! I could not agree more. I think more people need to be aware that “most convicted sex offenders do not re-offend.” There is no reason to have someone on the registry put up a sign on Halloween. Most states already have a public registry. Enough is enough. There are many people on the registry who were falsely convicted. People who were 18 and with their 15 year old girlfriends. Some of them will be on the registry for life. Most lives ruined.

I could not agree more with the poster above me “While saying we are protecting children, we are ruining thousands of chidren’s lives.”

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Stephanie October 24, 2011 at 10:17 am

People say it’s hard to understand why Halloween is “singled out” from the other holidays when it comes to setting a curfew for registered sex offenders… what’s so hard to understand about this?

Everyone knows that on Halloween night, children ages 5-18+ years old go out dressed in costumes knocking on doors for candy. Now hopefully the 5-13 year olds are being escorted about an adult, but what about the older kids? Yes, it’s unlikely that a sex offender would grab someone when they knock on their door (especially since they probably wouldn’t be alone) but I find it easy to believe that a sex offender could be hiding in a bush, waiting for a kid to get lost or separated from their group.

Call me paranoid, but I don’t think it’d cause any harm to these offenders if they’re directed to say home and not call any attention to themselves.

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Shana October 24, 2011 at 2:48 pm

It does cause harm to the offenders, and it’s not just them. Do you know that sex offenders also have families, including children, and that these type of over-the-top restrictions are just as humiliating and restrictive to them as they are to the offender? Why must there be so much suffering when there are no statistics to back up any of the hype?

Furthermore, most sex offenders don’t re-offend, and most new sex crimes are perpetrated by people NOT already on the registry. It would be so very unlikely for a registered SO to be “hiding in a bush” waiting to prey on some unsuspecting child, and there’s actual statistics to back that up. Because of that, I do feel that your thinking is paranoid in this case. Not that you’re alone… that’s what the media and legislators want.

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Stephanie October 25, 2011 at 9:46 am

I’m aware that not all sex offenders are registered but I don’t see what’s wrong with keeping an eye on the ones who are.

If people are worried about the restrictions and stigmas placed upon them because they’re a registered sex offender, there’s an easy way to prevent that – don’t assault another person. Same goes to the 18 y/o’s who sleep with their 15 y/o boyfriend/girlfriend. Know the law, it’s not that difficult. Everyone I knew in high school who were sexually active knew that the age of consent (at least in NYS) is 17 years old. I don’t see the excuse when it comes to that situation.

I seriously don’t think staying home for one night is so “humiliating” and “restrictive”. Unless they have to work, why MUST they go out? People are already going to be wary of your presence in the neighborhood, why push it?

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Stephanie October 25, 2011 at 9:49 am

I would also like to say the harm done to a child or other person because of an assault is more important than the harm done to a SO because they had to stay inside for one night.

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LoisMom October 24, 2011 at 2:19 pm

The website you are looking for is oncefallen.com and is one I frequently use to find studies, books and other items useful to prove that my sons (convicted at 18 and 19 of touching buttocks through the clothes while loading a child on a carnival ride and “visual sexual aggression”, which basically means that a child SAW him urinating) are not dangerous and should be permitted to enjoy the same freedoms as other people.
Thank you for this strike against hysteria.

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Diane Dimond October 24, 2011 at 9:04 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Lea Billings writes:

“I applaud your courage in standing up and showing yourself as a voice of reason. This is a subject that many would prefer to put on the back burner and go with the flow of paranoia and fear that is rampant in particular, at this time of the year. This is an extremely well researched and written article, which I am sure will be vehemently dragged over the coals by the uneducated masses, but digested and filed by the growing number of people who are actually willing to admit there is more to the label “s ex offender” than meets the eye. Again, thank you!”

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oksomom October 24, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Ms. Dimond, I am also thanking you for your Halloween story – you are an inspiration to many family members of registrants. My son is registered for life on Level III (most dangerous) for having a consensual relationship when he was 17 with his 14 year old high school girlfriend. Halloween is just one of many blights against registrants. In Oklahoma you have to have SEX OFFENDER printed on your driver’s license in three places, and the enevelope that comes in the mail every ninety days from the registry office has SEX OFFENDER REGISTRATION printed in bold letters. Just how much pain, sorrow and harrassment are registrants and their families going to have to endure because of this barbaric law? I am sending a copy of your article to Representatives Jeannie McDaniel and Lewis Moore who are conducting interim studies on the registry this fall if that is ok with you. Thanks again.

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Nancy October 24, 2011 at 10:29 pm

We live in the country and have not had one child trick-or-treat in all those years. I have a son registered and I also have two grandsons now and though I usually go to them to give them whatever treats I’ve gotten for them not only for Halloween but all holidays, I have to make the choice between them and my son. I have complained to the ACLU in district because I consider this a violation of my civil rights and they won’t do one single thing about it; they say get a lawyer. Yeh! right. Who can afford one in the first place and even if you could, try finding one that will talk to you. There are all kinds of lawyers willing to take on personal injury cases but none that want anything to do with sex offenders.

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buchanan October 25, 2011 at 12:27 am

This is in response to Stephanie:

With all the media hysteria regarding those who are on the registry, I would guess that any mother of young children would be concerned. However, as your children enter their teens, you should be more concerned about them getting put on a registry.

So many of our familes have been destroyed. Our young son’s lives have been ruined for minor offenses. Having sex with someone who tells you they are over 18, is not the worst crime in the world. They made mistakes, punish them is you want, but what good can come out of this if they all become homeless, jobless, and targets for the nuts that are a danger to soceity.

As taxpayers, we should all want our money spent wisely. Do you know how much this senseless act is costing the American public?

The children in these families are just as important. At no fault of their own, they are harrassed and embarrassed because of the SCARLETT LETTER they are now having to bear. These children are having to be homes schooled. Many young men eventually get married to their ” so-called victims”. Their children are also labled for life. How do you protect your children from the unknown?
Most offenses are committed by someone who is not on a registry.
Most offenses occur in the home.

We know that there are parents who have harmed their own children. Many have even died. Yet, do we say that all parents are monsters? Or they could become one? Of course not. I am just trying to get you to look at what is happening in our society. We all want to protect our children. Let’s do it together in a sane and just way.

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Sam SOandso October 25, 2011 at 9:10 am

Ms. Dimond,

I would like to thank you for your honesty and diligence in presenting “the facts” rather than the hysterically misguided misinformation that is so often the “norm”.

As far as violent predators “hiding in the bushes”. This is worse than paranoia….this is complete (ignorance based) hysteria and is perpetuated by lawmakers, politicians and mainstream media.

Furthermore…….”…not call any attention to themselves.” I can tell you that, unequivocally, these people are not trying to draw attention to themselves or their family. For fear of, dangerously ignorant, people and their ridiculous theories on SO behaviors.

There are many studies and fact based websites that can be used to educate ones self if they so desire to be told the truth. Perhaps, Stephanie, you should have a look…
sofarprojectdotcom
sexoffederissues.blogspotdotcom
oncefallendotcom
and many more

Again I would like to thank you Ms. Dimond for you truth.
Sam SOandso
samthesodotcom

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CLS October 31, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I appreciate the information about the hysteria, surrounding Halloween night, in regards to the stranger molesting children. The tragic irony is sex offenders usually know and have earned the trust of the families of the children they molest.

I am curious, though. Do you have studies I can read, in regards to most sex offenders not repeating their crimes? I’d like to educate myself. The only sex offenders I have heard about made a career of it. I know somebody who was shocked to learn her husband was molesting children. Whether or not he has complied with the police in monitoring his behavior is something I obviously don’t know, as they’re now divorced.

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Diane Dimond October 31, 2011 at 4:30 pm

There are lots of studies available on line that conclude that once you take diagnosed career pedophiles out of the mix (those people who would NEVER consider an adult sex partner because they are only attracted to children) the rate of re-offending is low. Here’s some articles to get you started. And may I applaud your willingness to read more about it!? So many people have already made up their minds – minus the facts. Sad.

http://www.livescience.com/776-predator-panic-reality-check-sex-offenders.html

http://www.connsacs.org/SexOffenders.htm

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=misunderstood-crimes

http://www.vnews.com/sexcrimes/recidivism.htm

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CLS November 14, 2011 at 2:21 am

I want to thank you for the links. Although it’s next to impossible to not have a bad reaction about the subject – due to my own bad experiences, the information was immensely helpful. It got me thinking.

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Diane Dimond November 14, 2011 at 9:57 am

Glad to hear that, CLS. If my columns do nothing more than spur people to think in ways they didn’t before then I’m happy. Sorry to hear you had previous “bad experiences.” Evil is everywhere I’m sad to say. ~ DD

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Diane Dimond October 31, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Facebook Friend D.C. Hughes writes:

“Hmm…

Somewhere, sometime in the late 20th century in this country someone decided that The Man (read “government”) and The People (read The Rest of Us) are responsible for the safety, security of OPCs (Other People’s Children), i.e. THEIR children…

If HRH is ever allowed to go “trick or treating”–I’ll know generally who he’s encountering, exactly where he is and be within striking distance of any potential threat.

I don’t know where this ZERO-Defect, “Family ‘Friendly’”, no personal responsibility mentality came. The world is–and always has been–a dangerous place; espec. for children. Due-Dilligence and reasonable precautions mitigate against this fact.”

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Diane Dimond October 31, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Facebook Friend Gary J Galligan writes:

“Diane—I would think that parents would be smart enought too check the online child molester data base for a molester in their own neighborhood—would You not? & avoid that house—-”

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Diane Dimond October 31, 2011 at 11:29 pm

Facebook Friend Beth Matthews writes:

“I agree Diane. I know where all the registered SOs live in my area, but what freaks me out is the ones who show up as “moved” but it doesn’t show to where. Money is always an excuse when it comes to monitoring SOs but it’s the most important part of their probation. What’s the point of letting them out of prison and not tracking them? Maybe they should all wear monitoring devices. I know I’ll hear comments about their “rights” from my monitoring comment, but to me abusing a child is a heinous crime and once committed, the offender should have no rights!”

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