Reason agrees: No red dots marking those on sex offense registry at Halloween


Originally published 10/1/2020 at Reason; reprinted in full here with permission.

By Jacob Sullum . . . Every year in the run-up to Halloween, Patch publishes maps showing the homes of “registered sex offenders” in various cities. Ostensibly, this information is aimed at helping parents who worry that their children might be molested while trick-or-treating. But research shows that such fears have no basis in reality, and these stories—like the warning signs and restrictions imposed by local police prior to Halloween—mainly serve to stigmatize people who have already completed their sentences, along with their spouses and children, who have committed no crimes at all. That stigma invites harassment, vandalism, and violence. Like much local journalism, the practice of publishing these maps is ill-informed sensationalism masquerading as a public service.

This fall a petition organized by the National Association for Rational Sexual Offense Laws (NARSOL) is urging Patch and other outlets to cut it out. Noting the “total lack of evidence that the publication of these addresses at Halloween keeps children safe,” the petition asks news organizations to “cease a hurtful publication practice that has no positive effect at all on child protection or public safety.”

The irrationality of that practice is clear once you understand a few basic facts:

1. Sex offender registries include a wide range of people, many of whom were not convicted of crimes against children.

2. Sex offenders stay on the registry long after they have completed their official punishment, even though they are less likely to commit new offenses of the same type than people convicted of other crimes. According to a 2019 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), less than 8 percent of people who had served sentences for rape or sexual assault were rearrested for a similar crime within nine years after they were released. That report also shows that the annual risk of recidivism falls dramatically over time.

3. The vast majority of sexually abused minors—93 percent, according to a 2000 BJS report—are assaulted by relatives, family friends, or other people they already know.

4. The vast majority of convicted sex offenders—86 percent, according to another BJS report—have no prior convictions for this category of crime, so they would not show up in registries.

5. There is no evidence that children face a higher risk of sexual assault on Halloween than they do the rest of the year. A 2009 analysis of 67,000 cases, reported in the journal Sexual Abuse, found “no increased rate on or just before Halloween.”

The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) amplifies that last point: “A heightened risk of being sexually abused is NOT one of the dangers children face at Halloween. The simple fact is that there are no significant increases in sex crimes on or around Halloween. There is no ‘Halloween effect.’ There is no change in the rate of sexual crimes by non-family members during Halloween. That was true both before and after communities enacted laws to restrict the activities of registrants during Halloween.”

In light of this evidence, the NARSOL petition argues, pre-Halloween stories showing the homes of people on the sex offender registry are gratuitous, unethical, and reckless. NARSOL adds that the focus on a nonexistent threat distracts attention from the main perpetrators of sex offenses against children, which are rarely committed by strangers, and from the main danger that kids face on Halloween: traffic accidents. The Washington Post reports that “children are three times more likely to be fatally injured by a car on the holiday, and the risk grows to 10 times for kids 4 to 8.”

The 150 or so signatories include ATSA, activists and journalists (including Reason contributor Lenore Skenazy) who support reform of sex offense laws, and an impressive list of professionals and academics. Among them are Elizabeth Letourneau, director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at Johns Hopkins University; Jill Levenson, a professor of social work at Barry University; Fred Berlin, director of the National Institute for the Study, Prevention, and Treatment of Sexual Trauma; Carleton University psychologist Karl Hanson; Arizona State law professor Ira Ellman; Southwestern Law School professor Catherine Carpenter; and University of Delaware sociologist Chrysanthi Leon.

Might these experts know more about this subject than the editors and writers who insist that parents should “find out where the registered sex offenders are living…before the kids go out trick-or-treating”? Perhaps Patch will consider the possibility.

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Halloween, “Sex Offenders,” and Big Red Dots

NARSOL’s Halloween project this year, developed and implemented by NARSOL and Connecticut’s One Standard of Justice, is an open letter in the form of a press release asking for the end to “red-dotting” the homes or listing the names and addresses of those listed on sexual offense registries. This is an insidious practice that has developed over the past ten or so years, a practice that is totally contradicted by research. The open letter is signed by NARSOL, by all of our affiliate organizations and most individual contacts, and by a great many notable organizations and individuals.

The Patch websites are especially prolific in the publishing of these maps and articles. A copy of the open letter was sent to the president of Patch Publications with an appeal to him to engage in a dialogue with NARSOL and with One Standard of Justice. He chose not to respond.

You may  view the press release here, complete with all of the names who signed in support.

Why NARSOL chose Halloween litigation


By Larry . . . In the last few days NARSOL has received comments regarding our decision to litigate the Halloween signs required by some sheriffs in the state of Georgia. The writer raised some legitimate questions even though he could have conveyed them with a bit more tact and politeness.

NARSOL chose to litigate the Halloween signs for a number of reasons. First, compelled placement of the signs threatens the safety of all occupants in the residence because of the potential for violence. Second, the constitution of the United States prohibits compelled speech by the government. Third, there is no statutory authority to support the actions of the sheriffs in Butts and Spalding Counties. Fourth, for NARSOL to stand idly by while law enforcement invents requirements jeopardizes everyone because there is no end of creativity in the law enforcement community. What will they invent next, and should we just stand down and hope for the best while they do so?

The writer bitterly complained: (1) that the Georgia General Assembly will soon vote on HB 720. This legislation will permit Halloween signs to be posted in the front yard of all registrants; and (2) the vast majority of registrants in the state of Georgia were not subjected to Halloween signs. He concluded by saying, “Thanks to NARSOL, the rest of us are facing the same humiliation . . . ” The Georgia House of Representatives did vote to pass HB 720, and it is now in the Senate awaiting consideration. No hearing has been scheduled due to the suspension of the legislative session due to the pandemic and health concerns.

He even opined that the action by the state was easy to forecast. He is correct. NARSOL did anticipate that such a proposal would be introduced and likely enacted into law by the Georgia General Assembly. The problem with ignoring the renegade sheriffs in Georgia was that the cancer would have spread throughout the state had NARSOL not intervened. In fact, the action was recommended by the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, and other counties had announced similar intentions regarding mandatory placement of Halloween signs. Actually, the sheriff of Ben Hill County announced he would erect the signs this past Halloween, and NARSOL immediately sent a cease-and desist-letter. Beyond that, simply ignoring constitutional violations because it does not impact everyone is a misguided strategy. In fact, that is part of the reason we have marked passports. Several states chose to require that driver’s licenses actually bear the words “sexual offender”; if there had been even one successful challenge against this, case law would be in existence to aid in fighting marked passports. NARSOL felt that the Halloween sign requirement was likely to spread to all 159 counties in the state of Georgia.

NARSOL does anticipate that HB 720 has a good chance of passage once the session reconvenes. That said, we are prepared to challenge the constitutionality of the legislation once it is signed by Governor Kemp. The case law on compelled speech is favorable to our position, and we believe that our chances of victory are quite good. It is critically important that our constituents understand that each victory builds the body of case law which helps us in other challenges. If we had done nothing, there would not be the Does v. Snyder decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, nor would there be many other victories which have been won in recent years. NARSOL has stated on numerous occasions that all laws enjoy the presumption of constitutionality upon enactment, and that the challenging party bears the burden of showing by the clearest of proof that the challenged statute is invalid. That being said, this particular challenge is a very strong one in our opinion because the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is something that the courts have been consistent in protecting. This particular challenge enjoys the support of the Alliance of Constitutional Sex Offense Laws as well as NARSOL.

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Larry Neely

Larry serves as NARSOL’S treasurer, publisher of the Digest, and co-chair of the conference planning committee. He also hosts the “NARSOL in Action” and “Can They Do That?” webinars and is a regular on the “Registry Matters” podcasts.


Georgia lawmakers push bad bill in response to Halloween sign lawsuit


By Fred . . . Last October, in a lawsuit that was initiated and financed by NARSOL, Federal Judge Marc T. Treadwell ruled against Sheriff Long and other officials of Butts County, Georgia, by granting a preliminary injunction to stop the placement of warning signs each Halloween on the property of those required to be on the sex offender registry. Sheriffs and county officials “. . . should be aware that the authority for their blanket sign posting is dubious at best and even more dubious if posted over the objection of registrants“, Judge Treadwell wrote in his order after agreeing that the practice violated the constitutional rights of registrants.

As he promised to do, Sheriff Long has appealed the decision to the 11th Circuit Court. NARSOL along with ACSOL submitted an amicus brief in support of the appellate challenge being led by Georgia attorneys Mark Yurachek and Mark Begnaud.  Last month, NARSOL’s executive director, Brenda Jones, said that NARSOL is confident Judge Treadwell’s decision will be affirmed by the Eleventh Circuit.

The grounds for initiating the lawsuit were in part based on the fact that there is nothing in the state or local law that requires signs to be placed in the yards of registrants. To remedy this lack of legislation, a bill sponsored by State Representatives Steven Sainz(R), Chuck Efstration(R), Barry Fleming(R), James Burchett(R), Martin MomTahan(R) and Marcus Wiedower(R) was introduced to the General Assembly with the aim of making the sign placement and other stipulations part of Georgia’s law. On Thursday HB 720 passed in the House with a vote of 98-63 and is now on its way to the Senate where it has a good chance of passing. The high number of votes in opposition were due, at least in part, to the hard work by NARSOL’s Georgia advocates and other groups in their tireless letter writing campaign.

According to our advocate in Georgia:

Concerned citizens are encouraged to contact Department of Community Supervision Commissioner Michael Nail urging him to publicly oppose HB 720 as it would create a burden on his agency and make our communities less safe.  The Senate Judiciary Committee will be responsible for what happens next.  Many advocacy groups came together in letter writing campaigns, which was instrumental in creating the the significant opposition.  This campaign will only grow stronger as the bill moves through the Senate.

NARSOL fully expected and anticipated this legislative action by the Georgia General Assembly in response to the pending lawsuit, and we understand the concerns that will arise from those affected. However, to sit back and do nothing in the face of a blatant violation to the rights of those on the registry is simply not an option. If one sheriff is allowed to overstep the boundaries of his authority, it would be only a matter of time before every sheriff in Georgia adopted the same policy and expanded its use past just Halloween. NARSOL is determined to not to let that happen for the well-being of all Georgia registrants and their families.

The lawsuit will continue on constitutional grounds, regardless of whether or not HB 720 becomes law. We are confident that we will prevail in court and that any unconstitutional laws passed in retaliation to our legal action will be challenged if they are not struck by the 11th Circuit Court’s decision in this case.

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Fred began volunteering with NARSOL as a gatekeeper and correspondent. Later he became involved with the tech committee to help with the development and maintenance of our many website projects. He devotes much of his time to helping the team ensure that NARSOL’s operations are running as smoothly as possible so that we can continue to grow and reach more people.


What are Central Georgia’s law enforcement agencies doing about sex offenders on Halloween?


This week a federal judge ruled that posting warning signs outside some sex offenders homes in Butts County is unconstitutional.

MACON, Ga. — It’s Halloween eve, and while kids are preparing for trick-or-treating, law enforcement is preparing to keep those children safe from sex offenders.

This week, a federal judge ruled that posting warning signs outside some offenders’ homes in Butts County is unconstitutional.

While that decision was specific to three sex offenders in Butts County, Monroe County Sheriff Brad Freeman says his deputies will now abide by this example.

“For the past several years, we’ve closely monitored [sex offenders] and placed signs in their yards, warning anyone that would go there to trick-or-treat that this residence was a convicted sex offender,” says Freeman.

Freeman says if the offender didn’t want to place a sign in their yard, they reported to the sheriff’s office on the night of October 31st, but this year, he says offenders aren’t required to do either.

That decision comes after Federal Judge Marc Treadwell ruled it was unconstitutional for Butts County Sheriff Gary Long to place a similar notice on some offenders’ front doors.

Christopher Reed, Reginald Holden, and Corey McClendon asked for an injunction against Long at the beginning of October after learning that he planned to post signs outside their homes again this year on Halloween.

“This is vanity. This is them picking on a particularly vulnerable group of citizens,” says the plaintiff’s attorney, Mark Yurachek. “They’re just looking to live quiet, private lives.”

On Tuesday, Judge Treadwell ruled in the sex offenders’ favor, saying the three men appeared to be rehabilitated and living law-abiding lives. He wrote that there was no evidence that the three posed any threat to children.

“It’s my understanding that the ruling was specifically for the three individuals that sued, that were in Butts County. However, it’s my theory that if it applied to those three, what would make it not apply to the others? And I just don’t want to find out in federal court that it did apply to those,” says Freeman.

Freeman says ahead of trick-or-treat time, his deputies are “double-checking” on each Monroe County sex offender’s home address, and will be patrolling the streets on Halloween night.

The Georgia sex offender registry is public and is open to everyone online. You can type in your address to see if any registered sex offenders live near you or on the streets you’re planning to take your children trick-or-treating on.

To view the registry, click here.

Taking a closer look at other Central Georgia counties, 13WMAZ asked some other law enforcement agencies about their Halloween plans.

We couldn’t find any other departments posting signs to alert people about sex offenders, but here’s what some agencies are doing:

– Sergeant Tim Leonard with Houston County’s Sexual Offender Registry also says officers will drive past sex offenders houses to check up.

– Dublin Police Chief Tim Chatman says they don’t have any specific requirements for sex offenders, but will have extra officers on the street to keep kids safe.

– Peach County requires sex offenders on probation to come to the courthouse for a few hours, according to Sheriff Terry Deese.

– Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee says they’ll have two officers assigned to monitor the county’s sex offenders Thursday.



Safety first: Tips for Cobb Halloween revelers


Everyone likes a scare on Halloween, so long as it’s safe.

Accordingly, Cobb County authorities are sharing tips for trick-or-treaters and other holiday revelers about avoiding harm while having fun Thursday.

Halloween, observed every Oct. 31, has become synonymous worldwide with costumes, candy and jack-o-lanterns made from hollowed-out pumpkins.

In Cobb, thousands of children and their parents are expected to participate in festivities during the typically busiest hours between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m., going door-to-door within neighborhoods seeking treats from generous residents and administering tricks to those short on sweet offerings.

With so many costumed children likely to be pounding the pavement Thursday afternoon and evening, Cobb police officers and sheriff’s deputies are asking everyone in the county to be especially mindful of pedestrians while driving, particularly within residential subdivisions and communities.

Local authorities are also reminding trick-or-treaters not to enter the home of any stranger and to have a way of communicating with elders or peers if participating in Halloween activities alone.

The Cobb County Sheriff’s Office is conducting “highly concentrated patrols” throughout the county Thursday evening, spokesman Glenn Daniel told the MDJ.

It is common practice in Georgia for law enforcement personnel to more closely monitor registered sex offenders on Halloween, given the potential on the day for children to unwittingly visit the homes of those on the list.

Sex offenders are generally subject to parole or probation conditions preventing them from interacting with children and even decorating their homes for Halloween, per state law.

In some cases, county authorities have even placed warning signs at the addresses of registered sex offenders during October to dissuade would-be trick-or-treaters.

Below are some Halloween safety guidelines from Cobb police and the sheriff’s office.

Safety tips for Halloween

♦ Expect more pedestrians in your neighborhood, drive slowly and eliminate distractions like cell phones. Turn your headlights on earlier in the day to spot children from greater distances.

♦ Popular trick-or-treating hours are 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Be especially alert for kids during those hours.

♦ Avoid walking in the middle of roads or criss-crossing across roadways to get from house to house. Try to stay on one side of the street and cross roads at corners with traffic signals or crosswalks.

♦ If there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic as far to the left as possible. Children should walk on direct routes with the fewest street crossings.

♦ Dress so you’re easily visible at night and use flashlights, reflectors, reflective tape, glowsticks, or other items to increase visibility. Make sure your costume is the right size to prevent trips and falls. Choose face paint over masks when possible as masks can limit children’s vision.

♦ Parents should walk with their children and use this as an opportunity to reiterate pedestrian safety rules, like teaching children to make eye contact with drivers before crossing in front of them.

♦ For older children who are not accompanied by a parent, remind them that they should never enter into the house of someone they do not know. If kids are mature enough to be out without supervision, tell them to stick to familiar areas that are well lit and trick-or-treat in groups.

♦ Make sure children who are not accompanied by a parent have a way to call for help in case of an emergency.

♦ Report any suspicious activity.

♦ If in doubt about sweets offered by residents, only eat those still in the original wrapping or packaging.


Judge rules sheriff can’t put signs in sex offenders’ yards warning trick-or-treaters

(CNN) — A federal judge has ruled in favor of the three sex offenders who sued a Georgia sheriff after his deputies put signs in the men’s yards last year warning trick-or-treaters not to visit on Halloween.

The three men sued on behalf of all registered sex offenders in Butts County after finding out the sheriff’s office was planning on putting the same signs this year, according to the ruling.

“The question the Court must answer is not whether (Butts County Sheriff Gary Long’s) plan is wise or moral, or whether it makes penological sense. Rather, the question is whether Sheriff Long’s plan runs afoul of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It does,” the ruling says.

Georgia displays all registered sex offenders’ names, photos and addresses in a public online directory. But the statute “does not require or authorize sheriffs to post signs in front of sex offenders’ homes,” the ruling states.

Judge Marc Treadwell granted a preliminary injunction for the plaintiffs and ruled that sheriff Long and his employees can’t place the signs during this year’s Halloween season on the three men’s yards — but didn’t broaden the injunction to all sex offenders in the county.

He did however warn the sheriff in continuing this kind of policy.

“(Sheriff Long) should be aware that the authority for (his) blanket sign posting is dubious at best and even more dubious if posted over the objection of registrants,” the judge wrote.

The sheriff’s office began planting the signs in 2018 after the county’s chamber of commerce canceled an annual trick-or-treating event, Long said in a previous social media post. Deputies suspected that the cancellation would drive more kids to go door-to-door for candy.

In the lawsuit filed last month, registered sex offenders Christopher Reed, Reginald Holden and Corey McClendon claim the sheriff’s office employees trespassed onto their private property when they put the signs and “had no legal authority” to place the signs, causing the men anxiety and humiliation.

All three of the plaintiffs have “paid their debts to society” and now live “productive, law-abiding lives,” the ruling said.

The court’s ruling, the judge said, “in no way limits Sheriff Long’s discretion to act on specific information suggesting a risk to public safety.”

But the sheriff can’t put signs in the plaintiffs’ yards just because their names are on the registry, the ruling says.

The suit named Long, a deputy and three unnamed sheriff’s office employees who helped put up the signs, a complaint said. The sheriff’s office didn’t provide anyone for comment when reached.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Long said he “respectfully and strongly” disagreed with the ruling and that deputies will keep a “very strong presence in the neighborhoods where we know sex offenders are likely to be.”

“Deputies will have candy in their patrol vehicles and will interact with the children until the neighborhood is clear of trick-or-treaters to ensure the safety of our children on Halloween night,” he said.

He was told he’d be arrested if he removed the sign

After putting up the signs in the men’s yards before Halloween 2018, deputies also handed out leaflets which said the signs “shall not be removed by anyone other than the Butts County Sheriff Office,” court documents say.

Holden, one of the plaintiffs, said when he called a deputy after he saw the sign, he was told he’d be arrested if he removed it, according to the ruling.

Other deputies told McClendon that if he took the sign out of his yard “it would be criminal action,”the ruling said.

While the state’s code sayssheriffs should inform the public of the sex offenders in each community, it “does not require or authorize sheriffs to post signs in front of sex offenders’ homes, nor does it require sex offenders themselves to allow such signs,” court documents say.

Georgia is not among the states that have instituted “no-candy laws,” which prohibit sex offenders on parole and probation from handing out candy on the holiday and require them to display signs revealing their status in their yards.

Some states, including New York and California, stop short of “no-candy laws” but require sex offenders to remain in their homes without interaction on Halloween and leave monitoring up to state departments of corrections.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.


Sex offenders win battle against sheriff’s office over trick-or-treat sign


BUTTS COUNTY, Ga. (CBS46) — “My promise to the citizens of Butts County is to protect the public, especially the children. This means making families aware if a registered sex offender is living close to them,” said Sheriff Gary Long after a judge ruled against “no trick or treat” signs placed near homes of registered sex offenders.

The signs, which were previously placed on homes ahead of Halloween 2018, were intended to warn parents not to take their children to specific homes where a sex offender resides.

Corey McClendon, Reginald Holden and Christopher Reed filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office to prevent the signs from going up this year.

Reed’s father told CBS46 under no circumstances can anyone place a sign, or do anything for that matter, to his property.

“I paid for the land, I paid for the taxes. So who are they to come and put signs on my property,” he asked. “I think it’s wrong. I think it’s humiliating,” he added.

“The judge in this matter has ruled that I can not put signs on the right-of-way of the three offender that filed the lawsuit,” said Long. “While I respectfully and strongly disagree with the judge’s ruling, I must abide by the ruling,” added Long.

Long also stated he sought legal advice prior to posting the controversial signs out, insuring they were in compliance with Georgia Law O.C.G.A. 42-1-12 (i)(5), which states:

“The Sheriff’s Office in each county shall: Inform the public of the presence of sexual offenders in each community.”

Though the signs are a no-go, Long says he and his deputies will be out in full force to protect trick-or-treaters.

“For this Halloween, our deputies will keep a very strong presence in the neighborhoods where we know sex offenders are likely to be. Deputies will have candy in their patrol vehicles and will interact with the children until the neighborhood is clear of trick-or-treaters to ensure the safety of our children on Halloween night.”

Long also urged the public to not take matters into their own hands. Adding, “we understand frustration with the judge’s ruling, but we all must abide by it unless it is overturned on appeal.”

To view the sex offender registry map, click here.

Copyright 2019 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


Georgia Sheriff sued over “no trick-or-treating” warning signs


Last year, Butts County Sheriff Gary Long placed signs in their yards that said they were sex offenders and warned children not to trick-or-treat at those homes.

BUTTS COUNTY, Georgia — A Georgia Sheriff wants to protect trick-or-treaters from sex offenders using yard sings, but sex offenders argue the signs go too far and violate their rights.

On Friday’s Lunch Break with Jay Crawford and Betsy Kling, 3News Legal Analyst Stephanie Haney broke down the arguments on both sides of a lawsuit filed by sex offenders hoping to stop the signs from going up again.

Last year, Butts County Sheriff Gary Long placed signs in their yards that said they were sex offenders and warned children not to trick-or-treat at those homes ahead of Halloween festivities. 

The lawsuit filed by registered sex offenders Christopher Reed, Reginald Holden and Corey McClendon on behalf of all sex offenders in Butts County argues that this is trespass, that the Sheriff has no legal authority to place the signs in their yards, and to do so is a violation of the constitution by forcing them to sanction speech.

During a court hearing on Thursday, however, the Sheriff argued the part of the yard where the sign was placed last year, and where he wants to put them again this year, is in the public right of way near the street so trespass doesn’t apply.

He also pointed out the planned signs for this year do not say the people in the homes are sex offenders.

At the heart of this issue is what rights registered sex offenders must give up when they are convicted of their crimes and what they’re required by law to do once they’ve been released from incarceration.

The attorney for the sex offenders told CNN in a statement: “The Registry Statute affords the Sheriff many legal avenues by which he may publicize the name, address and even photograph of every registered sex offender in Butts County, but unless and until the Legislature authorizes it, coming onto their property to force them to display signs is simply not one of them.”

Unlike Georgia, Ohio has a “no candy” law, which prohibits sex offenders on probation and parole from handing out candy and otherwise being a part of trick-or-treating.

These kinds of laws can be difficult to enforce, however, without a constant police presence keeping an eye on homes where they live.

Parents who are concerned about keeping their children away from homes where registered sex offenders lives can check the Ohio sex offender registry here.

Long said on Monday in a post on Facebook: “Regardless of the Judge’s ruling on Thursday, I WILL do everything within the letter of the Law to protect the children of this Community.”

On Thursday at 2:29 P.M. the Sheriff’s Department updated that statement to say no ruling has been made yet in the case, and that they department has been advised to make no further comments at this time.


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