table of contents
October 27, 2003
halloween & evil
Here it is Halloween again almost. Time for costumes. Time for Trick or Treat. Time for candy tampering. Or is it?
I am here to tell you that there has NEVER been a substantiated case of candy poisoning. Throw out that popcorn ball, Tina! Don't eat that Hershey's with the partially ripped wrapper! Police officers come to school telling you not to go to houses of people you don't know and not to take candy from strangers. Hospitals will offer to x-ray candy. Myriad Trick or Treat alternatives have been launched by communities, because of the perceived risk of candy tampering.
But all this fear is misplaced.
Here's the deal. In 1974, there was a death by cyanide-laced Pixie stick. Given to the boy by HIS OWN FATHER.
In 1970, a boy got into his uncle's heroin stash and ate some. He died. The family then put heroin in some of the boy's Halloween candy to protect the uncle from prosecution.
One October, there were reports of strychnine on some fruit-gummies (thought they weren't actually Halloween treats). Turned out later it was cornstarch.
In 1994 a little boy became sick on Halloween and the story ran that he had been poisoned by cocaine. No cocaine was found in his system, and it turns out he had been sick for hours before Trick or Treating.
There was one case where 16 people became ill in 1982 after attending a school Halloween party. Though PCP was mentioned in one article, there was conflicting evidence that it may have been something as "benign" as food poisoning.
Of the 80+ cases of sharp objects embedded in Halloween treats found in a study of newspaper articles from 1959 to present, all but 10 were found to be definite hoaxes. It is not clear who perpetrated the 10 "true" cases of candy tampering. It was not determined whether they were cases of parents or children trying to create a Halloween "scare" or gain media attention. The worst injury required a few stitches. And this is 10 cases in almost 50 years!
This whole thing is related, I think, to our great fear of strangers. Why on earth do we tell our children not to talk to strangers? Sure, awful things happen to children. Who perpetrates them? Almost all the time it is their own parents who abduct, rape, beat-up or kill children in awful, unspeakable ways. Sometimes it's not a parent -- it's an uncle or family friend. This is the sad and very ugly truth.
Why then, do we spend so much time and energy filling our children with "stranger danger"? There are national campaigns for this. Not much of the curriculum is devoted to "fear your non-custodial parent" or "fear your soccer coach", I bet. Only recently has the role of abuse by clergy gained attention. The terrible reality is that it will be someone you let into your home willingly -- or even give a key to -- that harms your child.
I know that sometimes strangers do awful things to children. They get lots of media attention. But statistically, this number is small. Is it worth having your child avoid strangers and to continue to have this view of strangers=bad into adulthood? I think this leads us to be insular and unfriendly to those in our communities and those who are not "just like us".
So go out Trick or Treating! Be nice to strangers. You might meet some interesting people that way.