Peeps and I still haven’t decided what our costume is going to be this year (any suggestions?), so in the mean-time I’ve been researching the psycho-stranger that is living in your neighborhood poisoning your kids’ Halloween candy and putting razors in their apples.
The media coverage of the phenomenon reached its peak in the mid seventies and the phenomenon seemed to stretch all the way into the nineties. Even more astounding is a study Joel Best conducted in 1990 which examined every newspaper article in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune for stories of Halloween sadism. There were many, many stories that he had to go through, but most were high on fear and low on actual events. A good example is Newsweek for 1975:
If this year’s Halloween follows form, a few children will return home with something more than an upset tummy: in recent years, several children have died and hundreds more have narrowly escaped injury from razor blades, sewing needles and shards of glass purposefully put into their goodies by adults.
When I say that there were “many, many” stories to go through, the vast majority of these articles were the week before Halloween with harsh caveats graphically describing the horrors of trick-or-treating, but the coverage in the days following Halloween turned out to be pretty scarce on the subject…which is strange because that’s when the news would “hit”. The media seem to be pretty strong on the warning, but pretty light on the actual evidence. In fact going back thirty years, digging through October and November issues of The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Los Angeles Times he could only find 78 articles that were about actual, specific incidences of Halloween Sadism rather than the subject in general. When Newsweek reported that “In recent years hundreds [of children] have narrowly escaped injury” this must then be a blatant exaggeration since less than a hundred cases were even known about by the press.
Add to that fact that out of those 78, only two fatalities occurred.
What’s more amazing is that after investigating those two fatalities Best found that the tainting occurred after the trick-or-treaters had already come home. In one case it was an uncle that poisoned the candy and in another it was a father. Statistically this means that you are safer eating uninspected candy you get trick-or-treating than uninspected candy given to you from a relative.
Which I think answers the question why we’ve created this mythical “child killer” stranger that lives nearby, because it’s a nicer alternative to the true dangers in the world. I was talking to a mother recently about this issue and her response was “better safe than sorry” on checking her kids’ Halloween candy even in light of this evidence. This is a fine attitude to have because it is better to keep your kids safe and there’s no harm in inspecting candy given to them by strangers, but I told her that it would be more affective to inspect each piece of candy given to them by her husband and brothers since they are more likely to hurt her children then a stranger.
“Obviously my husband wouldn’t hurt his own kids…or my brother. I don’t have that kind of malice in my family.”
Except that I’m sure that’s what the mothers of the only two Halloween candy fatalities thought. None of us like to think that someone in our own family would hurt our children, so as a community we’ve created a fictional villain to place our fears into so that we don’t have to face the fact that children are always more likely to be attacked by someone they know then by a stranger. It’s like the old wolves in the fairy tells. Sure, better safe than sorry to make your children afraid of wolves…but how much good does it do them to make them afraid of shadows?