I love the idea of a day when we are actually encouraged to engage in our community; where we feel welcome, and almost expected, to walk across the street and speak to people that aren’t exactly like us; where we have an opportunity to get to know our neighbors. I just wish one evening of “trick-or-treating” wasn’t the only time these community-building/neighbor-loving activities seemed to occur in the ‘burbs of America. I wish we would all find reasons, or the simple courage, to stroll around our streets, cruise about our community, and develop relationships with our neighbors on other days…and, certainly, in other ways!
I mean, think about it: we take this one day of the year, send our children out to roam the streets, in the dark, wearing costumes and masks, walking up to the porches of people they don’t know, asking for candy. Doesn’t sound like the safest idea to me.
In fact, The Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network says that sexual assault is “a crime of motive and opportunity,” making Halloween a day likely targeted by predators. Sexual abuse and assault are issues that we need to be aware of in general, but certain times of the year could pose extra danger, requiring extra attention. Police officials in some cities across the US are taking steps to make sure that registered sex offenders are accounted for and in compliance. While this is encouraging to hear, it isn’t the final answer.
We need to be more aware. Even if the dangers of trick-or-treating are only found in theory, it at least gives us good reason for another day of raising awareness and having important discussions with our children…which is why I bring you:
2010 TRICK-OR-TREAT SAFETY TIPS
- Kids should really be accompanied by an adult when they are out trick-or-treating. But no matter who they run with, before going out, parents should talk to kids about the importance of always staying in a group. A planned route should be discussed as well. This route should be only to areas familiar to the child.
- Kids should wear a watch and carry a flashlight. Plan a specific time to be home and who/where to call in case there is an emergency or if they become lost. Teach children how to call 911 and remind them that 911 can be dialed for free at any pay phone. If possible, give child a cell phone to carry with them.
- Plan costumes that are light and bright and that don’t drag on the ground, tripping or tangling them as they walk. Trim/decorate costumes and bags with reflective tape that will glow in the beam of a car’s headlights. If they are wearing a mask, make sure the child can breathe easily and see clearly. Pin a slip of paper with the child’s name, address, and phone number inside their costume or write it on a bracelet.
- Tell kids to stay on the sidewalk, not to walk on the street or across lawns and to avoid dark houses; explain that they are to only go to well-lit houses, where the residents are known and who have an outside light on as a sign of welcome. Never enter a house or car for candy or any other reason. Here is also a good time to have a conversation with kids about monsters…even “nice” monsters who give them candy… i.e. let them know they should never go inside a monster’s home, no matter how nice the monster may seem!
- Tell kids to accept treats only on the porch or doorway, never inside houses. Explain that they are not to eat any candy until they are home and you have an opportunity to inspect it. Toss out any candy that looks tampered with, torn, has pinholes in it, or simply looks peculiar or unusual.
- Teach kids to say “No!” or “This is not my mom/dad!” in a loud voice if someone tries to take them anywhere and teach them how to resist.
- If you notice any suspicious or unlawful activity, you should notify law enforcement authorities immediately.
Being aware of possible risks associated with an evening of trick-or-treating is a good first step toward reducing the risk of harm to our kids. However, while there are a number of reasons to worry about your child’s safety on Halloween, encountering child sexual predators need not be your primary concern. Too often we accept the myth that kids are at higher risk of sexual abuse in these encounters with strangers than they are in other everyday life situations with friends and family. But, you heard me…that’s a myth.
A recent study showed that only 2 out of every 1000 crimes committed on Halloween involve sexual abuse by a stranger. The findings showed that sex crimes by strangers do of course occur around trick-or-treating outings, but the researchers have found that Halloween has no higher risk than any other autumn day when it comes to sex crimes against children.
So, although it is important to be aware of the potential dangers present on Halloween and to do what we can to keep our kids safe, I admonish parents, grandparents, teachers, pastors, friends, everyone to be more educated and become more aware of the risk of sexual abuse—not just on a single day like Halloween, but everyday! Because the fact is every two minutes of every day someone in America is sexually assaulted.
Another fact: Only about 5% of cases of sexual abuse are perpetrated by a stranger.
Final fact: All of it needs to stop. Every child matters.
Q: What do birds give out on Halloween night?