In politics, Halloween is when demagogues take their latest fear mongering tactics out for a spin to see if a gullible public will bite, and how hard. As the National Post put it, “A one-night festival of ghoulish subject matter, unhealthy food and talking to strangers, it is no surprise that Halloween is an annual magnet for moral criticism. Halloween is when parental paranoia is 'market-tested,' American columnist Lenore Skenazy wrote in a 2010 blog post. 'If a new fear flies on Halloween, it’s probably going to catch on the rest of the year, too.'”
Which is how we get this annual flurry of sex-offender-related stories on Halloween. Forget for a moment that there are only two instances that anyone has identified in the history of the nation of kids being sexually assaulted on Halloween, and in neither instance did the offender have a criminal record that would place them on the sex-offender registry. Reality isn't as important as the opportunity for hyping fear.
When Grits first noticed this annual phenomenon several years ago I blamed the media. But tracking it closely, one discovers that nearly all local stories on the subject stem from a press release from the local Sheriff, probation department, or some other official, local source, so really it's law enforcement hyping the issue that drives coverage. Since it's not actually news but really just self-interested spin, I doubt the media would bother to produce these stories on their own without explicit prodding from officialdom.
Bottom line: Your kids are in FAR greater risk from traffic accidents, drunk drivers, or even being struck by lightning (not to mention obesity and tooth decay) on Halloween than from sex offenders luring them with sweets. Indeed, in terms of sex crimes against children, Halloween may actually be the safest day of the year. If you're lecturing your kids on the risks from sex offenders before they go out instead of making sure they can safely see through their Halloween mask and reminding them to watch for traffic, you're probably diverting their attention - and yours - from the most serious public safety issues surrounding the holiday.
MORE: James Alan Fox makes the excellent point that there is indeed a crime spike on Halloween, but that it's not sex offenses against children but workaday street crime that routinely increases on that day and should be the main policing focus.
AND MORE: See related items from Diane Dimond , Karen Franklin, and at Slate.
See related Grits posts:
- Ignorance, paranoia over phony Halloween sex-offender threat more frightening than ghosts or goblins
- Annual Halloween scare tactic on sex offenders doesn't improve public safety
- More on Halloween sex offender hype
- Pushback beginning on Halloween sex offender hype
- Time for annual Halloween sex offender hype