In this sense, Stephen Colbert’s “March to Keep Fear Alive” this weekend in D.C. is incredibly well timed.
OTOH, at least a few folks out there are beginning to counter these absurd memes. In the Wall Street Journal today, Lenore Skenazy, who blogs at Free-Range Kids, has an excellent column titled “‘Stranger Danger’ and the Decline of Halloween” (found via the blog Sex Offender Issues) in which she offers the insightful observation that “Halloween is the day when America market-tests parental paranoia. If a new fear flies on Halloween, it’s probably going to catch on the rest of the year, too.”
Another on-point remark: “Halloween taught marketers that parents are willing to be warned about anything, no matter how preposterous, and then they’re willing to be sold whatever solutions the market can come up with.” No kidding! Skenazy’s column concludes with these excellent observations:
And now comes the latest Halloween terror: Across the country, cities and states are passing waves of laws preventing registered sex offenders from leaving their homes—or sometimes even turning on their lights—on Halloween.
The reason? Same old same old: safety. As a panel of “experts” on the “Today” show warned viewers recently: Don’t let your children trick-or-treat without you “any earlier than [age] 13, because people put on masks, they put on disguises, and there are still people who do bad things.”
Perhaps there are. But Elizabeth Letourneau, an associate professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, studied crime statistics from 30 states and found, “There is zero evidence to support the idea that Halloween is a dangerous date for children in terms of child molestation.”
In fact, she says, “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.”
Why is it so safe? Because despite our mounting fears and apoplectic media, it is still the day that many of us, of all ages, go outside. We knock on doors. We meet each other. And all that giving and taking and trick-or-treating is building the very thing that keeps us safe: community.
We can kill off Halloween, or we can accept that it isn’t dangerous and give it back to the kids. Then maybe we can start giving them back the rest of their childhoods, too.
In the nation’s entire history, there’s only been one instance – in Wisconsin in 1973 – where a child was abducted and molested while trick or treating: The perpetrator (who murdered the youth) had no prior criminal record so even if sex-offender registries had existed back then, he wouldn’t have been on the list. Indeed, targeting registered sex offenders arguably ignores far greater risks: Grits mentioned on Monday “a 2008 study [which] found ‘that over 95% of all sexual offense arrests were committed by first-time sex offenders, casting doubt on the ability of laws that target repeat offenders to meaningfully reduce sexual offending.'” Another recent study found Halloween may be the “safest day of the year” as it pertains to sex offenses against children because, according to one of the researchers, “it was just so incredibly rare to see anything happen on that day.”
Urban planning theorist Jane Jacobs, one of my personal intellectual heroes, persuasively argued that encouraging greater density and pedestrian traffic in cities does more to reduce crime than all the cops you could throw at the problem because, as her obituary in the New York Times put it, “Whether neighbors or strangers, people are safer because they are almost never alone.” That’s exactly why Halloween is the “safest day of the year” regarding sex crimes against children, and all the hype to the contrary harms children more than it helps them.