Navigating Through Sex Offender Neighborhoods on Halloween

This Halloween, children all over will march round their neighborhoods in search of sweet treats. But do parents know which houses to avoid on this night of fright?

Halloween is one of the most anticipated holidays of the year for many parents and children alike.  Miniature Supermen, scarecrows, princesses and vampires traipse the streets, knocking on strangers’ doors and shouting “trick or treat!” as neighbors toss candy into their bags. But is it possible that one of these seemingly sweet neighbors may indeed be a sexual predator?

Though cities such as Rancho Santa Margarita, Lake Forest and Mission Viejo continue to rank as some of the safest in the nation, they are not exempt from sexual crime. Robert Engel, 68, of Mission Viejo was charged with masturbating in front of two teenage girls at the Rancho Santa Margarita Library. A few weeks ago, Engel was was found guilty of felony indecent exposure, the most recent in a number of incidents. Will the houses of those like Engel be dark this Halloween?

  • Registered sex offenders in the 92688 and 92679 zip codes.

Many cities across the country have established strict policies to ensure registered sex offenders do not interact with children in any way on Halloween, a night when many youngsters are especially visible in neighborhoods. The Houston Police Department in Texas conducts visits to sex offenders’ homes before Halloween night to make sure the perpetrators understand their limits. Those with prior convictions are not allowed to distribute treats to children, decorate for Halloween, leave their porch lights on, attend any haunted houses or any other public Halloween event, and under no circumstances are they to open their doors.

In Las Vegas, the police department has implemented a similar program called Operation Trick or Treat. Weeks before Halloween, police make the rounds, visiting each sex offender’s house to make sure they understand the rules to which they must comply. With 51 sex offenders within a one-mile radius in a certain part of the city, this program keeps the police especially busy this time of year.

Most parents are familiar with Megan’s Law, named after 7-year-old, Megan Kanka, a New Jersey girl who was raped and killed by a sex offender living just down the street from her house. The website, established in 2004, shows a map of all registered sex offenders in the area and lists the specific crime, the person’s name, age and their address. Even those individuals with less serious convictions must register on the site.

Many parents find websites like these comforting, for it helps them know which houses to avoid, particularly during holidays like Halloween. A few folks I know have even turned down a potential house for sale after doing a search and discovering a sexual predator lives in the 'hood. Though it’s good to remain knowledgeable, the question remains: Should parents inform their children about “certain houses” and encourage them to steer clear of them, not just on Halloween night, but at all times?

Growing up, I remember my mother telling me that a couple of “bad men” had moved in around the corner. Being a curious kid, I pressed her to find out what they’d done. She simply said they’d “hurt a woman,” and instantly, I was gripped with fear.

When we moved to a house five years ago, a neighbor informed me that a registered sex offender lived just a few doors down. She encouraged her boys not to play near his house and warned me to do the same. Not wanting to scare my children as I had been scared as a child, I simply said that the particular neighbor was a grumpy old guy and it was best to play on the other side of the street. Had they been older, I might have conducted a more serious conversation. But we left it at that, and when Halloween rolled around, his doorstep was dark, and we simply walked past it.

Moms and dads, with Halloween here—and the kids walking to school, as well—how do you navigate the subject? Do you check Megan’s Law and know where the sex offenders in your area live? Do you discuss it with your kids? And do you make sure you steer clear of their house when you make your trick or treat rounds?

BarT October 30, 2012 at 01:44 PM
How do you know the house you are going to doesn't harbor a drug dealer, gang member, murderer, alcoholic, wife beater, or, someone not on the registry such as Sandusky?
Martin Henderson October 30, 2012 at 07:49 PM
You don't know. But if you did know, you could be more wary. And since we have a tool to be more wary about one segment of society that has preyed upon kids (some younger than 14), we should take advantage of it.
Shana Rowan October 30, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Sex offenders have the lowest recidivism rate of all criminals except murderers, according to dozens of university, federal and state studies. Not all sex offenders have victimized children, and over 1/3 of sex crimes perpetrated against children are committed by other children. 95% of kids are abused by family or friends who aren't on the registry. Lastly, sex offenders have children and family who are harmed by irresponsible reporting such as this. Next time do 5 minutes of research instead of copying everyone else.
Shana Rowan October 30, 2012 at 09:02 PM
The editor of this "paper" doesn't want to hear about little inconveniences such as "facts." They disrupt his small little world where as long as we demonize sex offenders, kids will be safe! Too bad that approach has been a massive failure as sex crime rates are the same as they were 10 years before the registry. If you REALLY want to protect kids, acknowledge you have no CLUE what you are talking about and that you are hurting real children by being so ignorant.


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