Part 2: Razors and Needles, Poison, and Sexual Predators
Razor blades, poisons and sexual predators may be an odd combination, but it gives me a chance to introduce Joel Best, a professor at the University of Delaware who has been researching and writing about Halloween sadism for over 30 years, and has looked back at reports dating as far back as the late 1950s for evidence of people putting sharp objects or poison in trick or treat candy.
He hasn’t found much, which his a little shocking given the barrage of guides making the round of social media that seem to assume that sinister strangers lurk in every porch of your neighborhood busily stuffing snack sized candy bars with all things sharp and metal. According to Best’s research, people just don’t put nasty things in candy. Snopes agrees wholeheartedly.
Best explains “one cannot prove a negative. Therefore, I can never prove that no child has been killed by a Halloween sadist. I can simply note that such a death probably would be a major news story, yet I can’t find any evidence of such a story being covered by major media.”
“But, But…” the Internet responds every time someone reports on his research, “My cousin/friend found a needle/razor/cocaine once” This argument typically doesn’t hold up to scrutiny because the claim tends to be unaccompanied by the newspaper article one would expect for such a find, and because often the find even when included with a newspaper article came from a family member, or wasn’t intentionall made to look like candy (as in a vial with cocaine residue found after a trunk or treat).
His research includes reported incidents of people finding and reporting dangerous things in their candy. From 1958 to 2013, he found 91 incidents of Halloween sadism (see table). About 38 million kids trick or treat each year (93% of 41 million over the 55 years of his research), so that means about 1 kid out of every 23 million encounter but is not injured by stuff in their candy.
These one in 23 million incidents get news coverage, as when a man found a razor in his sons’ candy in 2011, or a young boy who was killed by cyanide in his candy in 1974 (his father was later found guilty of murder).
Compare that to your kid’s chances of being injured by a car on halloween night, and the amount of press coverage tainted candy gets is laughable.
State Farm and Sperling’s Places studied traffic fatalities for children on Halloween from 1990-2010, and found that 115 children died on that night over the 21 year span. Keep in mind that Best’s data is only of dangers that were FOUND, not of actual deaths, and even then, he only shows 12 incidents.
Based on this, tips for parents should only make a passing reference to methods to thwart tainted candy (or not mention it at all) and focus almost entirely on preventing accidents. For the most part the tips from national organizations do, as in this list at the Safe Kids website.
But there’s a marked difference when you look at tips in image form, you know, the ones that are passed around on social media. Of the first ten I found on a google search, 16% (14/86) of the tips were related to tainted halloween candy. Once you expand that to include stranger-danger concerns, the number rises to 25% (22/86), which brings me to the sexual predator fears at halloween.
Best sites four researchers with affiliations at universities from Florida to Washington State. The research looked “nonfamilial sex crimes against children aged 12 years and less” from 1995 to 2005 and concluded that “no increased rate on or just before Halloween was found, and Halloween incidents did not evidence unusual case characteristics.”
The interesting thing about this research is that the data spans years before and after several communities began instituting legislation that prevented sex offenders from participating in Halloween. Despite this finding, several states and towns now ban sex offenders from handing out candy. While I’m not advocating for convicted sex offenders and Halloween, it seems like community and police resources would be spent stopping dangers that are statistically likely.
According to Prevention First, the top three reasons children come in to the emergency room are: traffic collisions with pedestrians, eye injuries from sharp costume accessories, and burns (made worse by flammable costumes).
Despite ALL of this information, there are an increasing number of indoor events being sold to parents as a “safe alternative” to trick or treating. Yet, children at these events often wear costumes (you know, like the ones that poke out eyes or catch fire in the paragraph above).
The data suggests that trick or treating is a pretty safe activity already, so there’s really no reason to buy into the hype, make special arrangements or add to anyone’s stress.