Real-World Halloween Safety Tips

October 31 – Halloween. All Hallow’s Eve. For those who practice neo-Pagan spiritual traditions, the festival of Samhain. Also, a time when the mainstream media and pop culture take the safety of our kids and turn it into insane, mindless hysteria.

This year, the media hysteria seems, as usual, to center around two common fears: Pedophiles, and tainted candy. I’d like to talk about each of these in the context of awareness and risk assessment, and then offer some more common-sense tips to keep yourself and your children safe tonight.

The tainted candy scare-fest. According to Wikipedia, the myths about wholesale tampering with kids’ Halloween candy began with a woman in Long Island in 1964 who handed out some strange items – steel wool, dog biscuits, and (clearly marked) ant poison – to trick-or-treaters she believed were too old for Halloween. Steady flame-fanning by the media built the whole idea up into a near-hysteria, and a poll in 1985 found that some 60% of parents believed their kids would be injured by tainted Halloween treats.

The truth? Joel Best, a University of Delaware sociologist who’s studied the problem, has identified fewer than 90 news stories of documentable evidence that might suggest candy tampering, and the vast majority of those were later determined to be hoaxes. Can you say, “low probability event”? I knew you could.

The pedophile peril. Let’s be honest: Sex offenders are everywhere. My own community of 45,000 people is home to some 64 registered sex offenders. Nationwide, there are close to 3/4 of a million registered offenders. So, of course, the media frenzy machine is over-hyping this risk, generating fear and suspicion, and encouraging the passage of stupidly-written laws “for the good of our children”.

The trouble is, the fact that someone is a registered sex offender doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dangerous. Ever been on a long road trip, needed a bathroom, and watered a shrub by the side of the road? In some jurisdictions, the resulting indecent exposure conviction (if you’re caught) is a registrable offense. So is consensual sex between an 18-year-old boy and his 16-year-old girlfriend, if the prosecutor wants to make an issue of it. Contrary to popular perception, relatively few sex offenders re-offend once released from prison, and those that do tend to re-offend and be re-arrested fairly quickly. That’s not to say there isn’t a danger, just that it’s a lot smaller than people think.

So, if we don’t give in to the poisoned candy hysteria and the sex offender panic, what are some good common-sense, non-tinfoil-hat Halloween safety precautions? Here’s what I do with my daughter:

    • Travel in groups. When Nutmeg (who’s just turned 17 but still considers herself a kid at heart) goes trick-or-treating, it’s with a group of friends. A group of kids is a less attractive target than a lone child walking alone, and the group can also go get help if a problem arises. The problem could be a predator, of course, but more mundane crises (a twisted ankle, for example) are much more likely.
    • Practice good situational awareness. While the risk of predators is vastly smaller than the media would have you believe, it isn’t zero. Plus, Halloween breeds Halloween parties, and any time you have a party there’s a potential for alcohol use and the chaos that seems to follow therefrom. Be aware of your surroundings.
    • Carry a flashlight. My friend Ben Branam has talked about the defensive uses for flashlights, but there’s a more important reason I include this on my list: trick-or-treating happens in the dark, and being able to see where you’re going is a good thing.
    • Keep your parents aware of your location. With Nutmeg, this is easy to do – she and her friends go out with GPS-trackable cell phones, and I ask her to call me and check in before leaving the neighborhood. This way, if there’s a problem – be it a predator or a sprained ankle – the search area is manageably small.
    • Don’t go into people’s houses. The sex offender hysteria tells us that we should avoid the homes of registered offenders. But really, why should our children have to go inside anybody’s home to trick-or-treat? If the weather’s too bad to wait outside while the homeowner gets candy, you should probably stay home.
    • Have fun! Giving in to paranoia saps all the fun that Halloween is supposed to be, without actually making anybody any safer. Like I’ve said before, there’s a difference between feeling safe and being safe. Mindless panic that doesn’t actually make anybody safer creates needless stress. And really, who wants that?

Happy Halloween, everyone. Stay safe and have fun tonight! (And to my Pagan friends, may this turning of the wheel of the year bring you renewal and blessings.)

Photo Credit: stock.xchng

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