Tears of a Clown: Creepy Clowns Hurting Professional Performers 

"We basically decided not to go out in the month of October."

Mental health experts call it coulrophobia but, despite the exotic-sounding term, it's a common condition: the paralyzing fear of clowns.

Feeding off the plethora of real and fictitious evil clowns in pop culture, so-called "creepy clowns" have jumped from the stuff of nightmares into a flesh-and-blood menace.

Whether for a sick thrill or actual intent to cause harm, figures dressed in clown garb have been reported around the world creeping along nighttime streets, lurking in bushes and, in some cases, trying to coax kids into forested areas. In recent months, the sightings have come from across the United States as well as Manchester, England and Victoria, Australia. Creepy clowns have also been said to be roaming in Idaho.

Officials with the Nampa Police Department acknowledged on the department's Facebook page they are "taking precautions" against clowns both on foot and on social media, and are encouraging residents to abstain from clown hunts happening on college campuses in other American cities. According to the NPD, "the large number of Nampa residents who are out looking for the clowns is making this more difficult to deal with."

It's not just police having trouble as a result of the creepy clown sightings, and the real victims might not even be the people who are spooked by mask-wearing pranksters. According to many of the men and women who dress up as clowns to provide entertainment or contribute to noble causes, creepy clowns are affecting their careers.

"We basically decided not to go out in the month of October in our clown outfits," said Wanda Jennings, president of nonprofit Idaho Gem Jesters. "We do so many good things. We go and visit the nursing and veterans homes, and we clown at City Light Home for Women and Children once a month. But this year, we decided to go in our Halloween costumes instead. We just want to spread joy, but if people are scared of us then we don't want to be there."

Karen Burell, who performed as the beloved "Ozseeker the Clown" at countless Treasure Valley events, passed away a few months before sinister clown mania reached fever pitch. According to her husband, she sensed a tide was turning.

"Recently the scary clown has become much more prominent," said James Burell, "but people began putting a scary face on clowning starting five to six years ago. As a consequence, my wife was trying to change her character into something other than a clown."

Scott Ethington, who owns the Haunted World attraction in Caldwell, has been disturbed by the sensitivity surrounding clowns.

"We have a clown scene, we've always had a clown scene and we always will have a clown scene," he said. "I can't handle the negativity. I think it is time for people to start looking for the fun in things, instead of pointing out things we can't do anymore because this [creepy clown scare] is going on. That is just what [the clowns] want: Control."

When asked if he has been approached by creepy clowns wanting to practice their scare tactics at The Haunted World, Ethington said, "The only call I have had was one guy asking if he could come to our haunt as a creepy clown and hide out on the road. I told him I would kick his butt if I saw him and have him arrested. All the clowns [at The Haunted World] have their spot, outfit and job to do... It's just fun."

Jed "Duffy" Selter, who helms the Suquamish, Wash.-based nonprofit Caring Clowns International, refuses to be intimidated.

"The positive side of clowning is immense with families across the world, and has been for years," said Selter. "We are not taking a hiatus [because of the creepy clowns]. We have two parts to our mission: one is to bring joy in the world and the second is to raise money for small nonprofits around the world who provide services to kids in need."

Caring Clowns International reports it has donated more than $300,000 to 40 nonprofits around the world. Over the 15 years they have been clowning, they have also donated more than $50,000 to surgeons who provide free craniofacial surgeries to children with facial anomalies.

"Unless the creepy clowns continue, in spring we are planning to put on a kids' clown walk in the Seattle area," said Selter. "We will have a station where we dress the kids up as clowns and all the money we raise will go to the Kitsap Kids Program, which provides food, advocacy and emergency services to people in need."

The sentiment that people should focus on fun rather than fear is echoed by well-meaning clowns across the country. Jordan Jones, who plays "Snuggles" the clown at Screamland Farms in Maryland, has even gone so far as to start a #clownlivesmatter movement on Facebook. His campaign, which sells T-shirts and #clownlivesmatter wristbands, has received international support, garnering comments from as far afield as Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Jones claims to be selling merchandise so that people around the world can "support the cause to keep the good name of professional clown actors all around the United States."

"We're affected by the devastating criminal acts and we are not affiliated with them nor [do we] agree," he said.

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