October 30, 2008

Beware the Halloween bogeyman!

This Halloween, as vampires, ghosts, witches, and other fearsome creatures stalk the night, communities are gearing up for an even more horrendous monster, the most evil and terrifying of them all. It's .... eeeeeek .......


On Halloween, communities around the United States are taking drastic and unprecedented steps to keep vulnerable young children safe from this lurking menace:
  • In Roanoke, Virginia, and Anderson, South Carolina, convicted sex offenders will be rounded up and held at a single location.
  • In Tennessee, sex offenders are being forbidden from wearing costumes or handing out candy to trick-or-treaters.
  • In Maryland, registered offenders are being required to post "No Candy" signs on their doors.
  • In Harris County, Texas, sheriff’s deputies are cruising the streets, ready to arrest any sex offender with Halloween decorations on his home.
  • In California and Illinois, paroled offenders must turn off all outside lights, stay in their homes from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., and not answer their doors except to police.
The good citizens of Belleville, Missouri are going further this year. Not only are sex offenders prohibited from handing out candy, but normal teenagers are no longer allowed to trick-or-treat! A newly enacted city law bans anyone in the ninth grade or higher from trick-or-treating, unless they are a "special-needs" child accompanied by a parent or guardian. Even younger kids must stop trick-or-treating by 8:30 p.m. under penalty of arrest. The rules were prompted by citizen fear of menacing high schoolers.

"We believe that Halloween is for little children," said the town's mayor, Mark Eckert. "We just feel that we need to go that extra mile to protect the children."

And there's the rub. Fear and hype notwithstanding, there is not one single case on record of a child being sexually molested by a registered sex offender while trick-or-treating on Halloween.

In that regard, the current sex offender scare has much in common with the Halloween legend of tainted candy.

As Benjamin Radford of the Skeptical Enquirer pointed out about that enduring stranger-danger myth: "Despite e-mail warnings, scary stories, and Ann Landers columns to the contrary, there have been only two confirmed cases of children being killed by poisoned Halloween candy, and in both cases the children were killed not in a random act by strangers but intentional murder by one of their parents."

The sad part of both myths is that children are taught a message of fear: Strangers, or even their own neighbors, might try to poison or molest them.

The real danger facing children this Halloween is getting hit by a car while crossing a dark street.

That, and dental cavities.

Also see the essay by Benjamin Radford in LiveScience , "Halloween Hysteria: Phantom Fears and Sex Offenders."

Graphics credit: Zombophoto (Creative Commons license).

Note: This post is back by popular demand from last year's Halloween essay; the Belleville law is new, but all the rest of those listed above were in place last year. This year, you can bet that even more states and municipalities will have jumped on the bandwagon. Feel free to post new ones that you may know about in the "Comments" section.