Sex Offenders, Candy and Cute Little Trick or Treaters

Filed under: Holidays, Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Teens


Remember the good ol' days when all we worried about on Halloween was poisoned candy? Now the big fear is sex offenders.

That fear has lead a swath of cities and states to pass laws requiring registered sex offenders to stay at home on Halloween -- sometimes with the lights off. Echoing that concern, one of the parenting experts on "The Today Show" told viewers that no child under the age of 13 should trick-or-treat without a chaperone because, "people put on masks, they put on disguises, and there still are people who do bad things."

I'm sure that people do put on masks and disguises. That's sort of the whole point of Halloween. But do they really proceed to prey on trick-or-treaters or is this just the latest urban myth? After all, Prof. Joel Best at the University of Delaware researched crime reports from 1958 to the present and found that, in fact, no child had ever been poisoned by a stranger's Halloween candy. Not one! So that fear was totally unfounded. How about this new one?

To find out, Elizabeth Letourneau at the Medical University of South Carolina and her colleagues pored over sex crime reports from 30 states, covering the years 1997 to 2005. Their findings? "There is zero evidence to support the idea that Halloween is a dangerous date for children in terms of child molestation," she says.

In fact, she adds, "We almost called this paper, 'Halloween: The Safest Day of the Year,' because it was just so incredibly rare to see anything happen on that day." And by examining the data from 1997 (before the Halloween sex offender laws kicked in) with 2005 (after many laws did), they found no difference. Because Halloween had never been a dangerous sex crime day to begin with.

So the experts on "The Today Show" had it, in fact, exactly wrong. "Bad people" are not out there snatching children off the streets. And yet, spreading that scary rumor is endangering kids in its own right. How?

As communities pass laws requiring former sex offenders to stay home, someone has to make sure those laws are enforced. So cops go door to door, checking.

Meantime, zillions of children are zooming around in the dark. And while there will be no bump in sex crimes whatsoever, four times more children will die that night -- in pedestrian accidents.

If only the cops were directing traffic instead of knocking on sex offenders' doors, they'd probably be saving some little ghosts and goblins' lives.

Our overwhelming fear of child molesters is making our kids less safe. That is a scary thought.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.