"aimed to protect children from dangerous strangers"
October 31, 2019 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Halloween and Stranger Danger Bizarre restrictions are levied against people on the sex offense registry on Halloween. But do they actually make children safer or simply reveal what we fear? [Boston Review]
But the incarnation of the boogeyman that we feared even more was the statistically improbable one: the true stranger, the one who lurks waiting for nightfall or for you to separate from your friends. The children’s section of the library, the bus stop, the playground, the shortcut through a corn field, the empty lot on the way home from school are the places this “monster” preys.

Fear of real-life boogeymen led to the passage of a spate of laws in the 1980s and ’90s, almost all named after a disappeared or murdered child, all white and middle-class.
posted by readinghippo (26 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
But the incarnation of the boogeyman that we feared even more was the statistically improbable one: the true stranger, the one who lurks waiting for nightfall or for you to separate from your friends.

I often wonder if this is a convenient prop to keep us from having to stare directly at the fact that most abusers are well known to their victims, their victims' friends and their victims' families. In the case of children, most abusers are members of their victims' families. If laws like this are to give us a methadone sense we've done something, when in fact we've done very little.
posted by mhoye at 1:52 PM on October 31, 2019 [36 favorites]


From the article:
“Those of us who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s had Halloweens filled with tales of poisoned, LSD-enhanced, cyanide-laced, and razor blade–spiked candies.”
Most of the fear-mongering I recall from the 80s was centered around this, that our candy was going to be filled with razer blades or rat poison.

Also, a guy in a van offering us candy. This was also the other fear expressed to me the most as a child. And I'm sure that there are plenty of stories about abductions that are done hurriedly in a car or a van of some type, that I'm not denying at all.

But it's exactly like mhoye wrote up above. It's most likely going to be a family member or a friend of the family that preys upon a child. It's because they're already in the inner circle so to speak and our guards are let down a bit.
posted by Fizz at 1:59 PM on October 31, 2019 [6 favorites]


One year, a few years ago, our little dead-end culdesac's number of Trick-Or-Treaters dropped dramatically from the years before—I mean, like from 40-50 to maybe 5 or 10.

Just this morning I saw a "Halloween Safety Map" article posted on the local newspaper website. Embedded in the article was an interactive map showing alleged registered sex offenders. I zoomed in and saw that there was one shown at the end of the street I live on. I clicked on the offender icon and it listed the name of a person that lived briefly in that location but hasn't lived there for at least 5 years.

I wonder how to fix that. Shouldn't they know where these registered sex offenders actually live?
posted by bz at 2:00 PM on October 31, 2019 [26 favorites]


I was just reading this similar article [NYT]- the big danger to kids on Halloween seems to be getting hit by cars.
posted by Mchelly at 2:04 PM on October 31, 2019 [14 favorites]


> clicked on the offender icon and it listed the name of a person that lived briefly in that location but hasn't lived there for at least 5 years

I saw what's presumably the same article for my town, and the dots showing where registered sex offenders lived weren't on the right locations -- the few I looked at were all a few blocks off.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:14 PM on October 31, 2019 [1 favorite]


Also, a guy in a van offering us candy.

Did they warn you about speakers?
posted by thelonius at 2:17 PM on October 31, 2019 [20 favorites]


> the big danger to kids on Halloween seems to be getting hit by cars.

That's the other danger to children that we're not willing to stare at directly.
posted by mhoye at 2:36 PM on October 31, 2019 [33 favorites]


There has never been a recorded case of adulterated Hallowe'en candy, ever. I used to ask people online, hoping to actually find a documented case to look into, but in 20 years of this nobody has ever provided any documentation. It simply. never. happened.

The Littlest Hobo does song and dance routines competitively, and so her costume game is on point. We did the neighbourhood in a pretty good costume from Wicked, and someone handed her a lone jaffa cake outside of any wrapping. She took it out and held it up to me, questioning.

I pulled my phone out "Hangon...Yeah, get rid of that."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, the apricot filling has beef gelatine. Totally not suitable for vegetarians."

I tell you, some people are shocked to learn that Haribo is made of meat.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:36 PM on October 31, 2019 [18 favorites]


They’re not called gummi vegetables, rss hobo.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 2:47 PM on October 31, 2019 [40 favorites]


There has never been a recorded case of adulterated Hallowe'en candy

As noted in the article, and reinforcing the theme of the thread so far, the biggest case that got everybody panicked about this was a guy who poisoned his own kid as an insurance fraud scheme. He did try to poison his neighbors' kids to cover it up but only his son ended up eating the candy.
posted by atoxyl at 3:11 PM on October 31, 2019 [16 favorites]


The big stranger danger when I trick-or-treated was older kids.

When I was in 5th grade and out with a schoolmate — the only time in elementary school I didn't go completely alone — a couple of bigger kids jumped out from behind a hedge and attacked us. I managed to trip mine and deliver a (weak) kick, but the other one got away with almost all of my friend's candy.

One of the enduring shames of my childhood is that I gave a pitifully small portion of my candy to my friend, and it wasn't like I was hurting for candy either; it was so abundant at my house that if it had been a liquid, I could have surfed out the door on a wave of it when I left in the morning.

That comes back to haunt me every Halloween, and for some reason, time has not diminished its sting.
posted by jamjam at 3:46 PM on October 31, 2019 [42 favorites]


the big danger to kids on Halloween seems to be getting hit by cars

Yes, but fixing that would require structural changes, like mandating that new developments be built with sidewalks, or lowering (and enforcing) the speed limit to 25MPH in residential areas everywhere. Stranger-danger, in contrast, lets us define a faceless other as the culprit, requires little or no proof, earns huge political capital for its advocates, and has no structural fix aside from deepening the surveillance state. Guess which one makes political hay.
posted by Mayor West at 3:56 PM on October 31, 2019 [26 favorites]


> the big danger to kids on Halloween seems to be getting hit by cars.

And year round; in 2017 per the CDC motorists were the number 2 killers of children aged 1-14, only narrowly beaten by all forms of cancer combined. (1180 vs 1117). In fact, the population under 25 were more likely to be killed in a car collision than in any other fashion (unless you add gun suicides and gun homicides together). But, you know, everybody is a driver and we don't want to inconvenience them, so let's focus on completely fictitious dangers.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:02 PM on October 31, 2019 [13 favorites]


My daughter’s elementary school was adjacent to a high school. On Halloween day an email was sent to parents “out of an abundance of caution” that a van had been spotted prowling the neighborhood, brightly painted with the logo Mystery Machine. This was the moment I registered peak moral panic and decided I would ignore every future message from the school.
posted by simra at 4:05 PM on October 31, 2019 [20 favorites]


Well, yeah- clearly the school administration was in cahoots with the old caretaker who also owns the abandoned amusement park down the street.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:42 PM on October 31, 2019 [42 favorites]


I’m wondering what a rational process would be to escape the political trap we’ve built for ourselves here. Every time something bad happens to a (white) child, we get another feel-good law that probably wouldn’t have prevented the original crime let alone have a marked effect on future crimes. On the other hand, we can never rid ourselves of these ineffective laws because if we do, those voting to repeal it will be held personally responsible for every crime against a child for the foreseeable future, whether the repealed law would have been applicable or not. Thus there seems to be no way to avoid getting into such a mess or to get out of it once we are in.
posted by gelfin at 4:47 PM on October 31, 2019 [9 favorites]


I’m wondering what a rational process would be to escape the political trap we’ve built for ourselves here.

My modest proposal has always been that we reject all forms of intersectionality for things that hurt people. You are only allowed to care about a higher cause of harm.

Worried about terrorism? Sorry, gotta fix drunk drivers first.

Scared about roving groups of youths in the neighborhood? Nope. Better take care of white collar crime.

Sex offenders? Time to tackle women's heart disease!


It's a bad approach but I'm not entirely sure that big picture it's any worse than what we have now
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 5:17 PM on October 31, 2019 [6 favorites]


There has never been a recorded case of adulterated Hallowe'en candy, ever.

Yea, I'ma need a citation for that.

... no seriously, I need to prove that negative to my family members who all suffer from hypochondria to the point of, quite often, being no fun to be around.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:37 PM on October 31, 2019 [5 favorites]


I often wonder if this is a convenient prop to keep us from having to stare directly at the fact that most abusers are well known to their victims, their victims' friends and their victims' families.
It is. My exposures to rich people psychiatry have left me convinced that profound child abuse is endemic among the wealthy and upper middle class in a way that cannot be admitted by their peers so they cover for each other.
posted by PMdixon at 5:38 PM on October 31, 2019 [12 favorites]


Well, in 1959 there was a dentist who dropped laxative pills in kids' trick-or-treat bags.

There's this 2015 Canadian report:
Police are investigating after an 11-year-old girl bit into a chocolate bar and found a razor blade hidden inside it Friday.

The girl was not injured.

It's the third such report from Toronto police since Halloween with other children finding a needle and a thumbtack buried in their candy.
The reality seems to be that tampering happens, but except for the laxatives and that guy who killed his son, it hasn't yet harmed any kids.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:21 PM on October 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yea, I'ma need a citation for that.

... no seriously, I need to prove that negative to my family members who all suffer from hypochondria to the point of, quite often, being no fun to be around.


As Kirth Gerson points out, there have been rare reported cases of dangerous objects in Halloween candy. But to date there have been no known cases of poisoned halloween candy, according to Snopes.

(They note one case, but the poisoning apparently was done by the child's father who had taken out a large insurance policy on the child and wanted to make it look like a random act.)
posted by justkevin at 7:42 PM on October 31, 2019 [2 favorites]


There was the judge in California who was perhaps a bit more lenient with rapists, but democracy got rid of him... and that one wasn't even about a pedo.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 12:52 AM on November 1, 2019


This reminds me a lot of the school where I work where we have a new sign-in procedure that generates an ID badge for people not on the sex offender registry (it scans your ID). If it turns out that you are on the registry, you get no badge and have to leave campus. You know, because we’re Keeping Children Safe!! Meanwhile, nobody is doing one goddamned thing to prevent people from driving onto the playground, the way some high schoolers did last year. Nobody is dealing with the fact that a solid 1/4 mile of the campus is unfenced, including a part of a playing field on a blind curve in the road.

But we’re Keeping Children Safe from predators, conveniently overlooking the fact that unconvicted abusers are on campus and in children’s homes every day.
posted by corey flood at 6:35 AM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


Good Lord, Kirth, I didn't know about those. The razor blade is life imitating urban legend, which is something that creeps me the hell out.

When I worked in an archive some time ago, I came across a clipping from the '50s about someone giving out mothballs on Halloween. That's less scary, I think, and more nasty. It would just ruin the bag.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:49 AM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


There was another razor blade incident in Canada the next year, in which the child cut his thumb, so I guess add that to the injury toll. People suck.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:08 AM on November 1, 2019


I was just reading this similar article [NYT]- the big danger to kids on Halloween seems to be getting hit by cars.

This is why my mother banned us from wearing masks, and insisted on costumes that were at least somewhat visible in the dark.

She was also really afraid of us playing unsupervised in creeks and other rivers, especially during spring floods. She had a realistic sense of the major dangers.
posted by jb at 10:03 AM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


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