Sunday, October 28, 2007

They are Safer on the Streets than at Home

Tales of tampered candy and others like it are based more on our unreasonable collective fears, fueled by the media and hearsay, than on factual information. The fear surrounding tainted Halloween treats goes back for decades and may have originally stemmed from an incident in 1964. A New York housewife, annoyed that many of the trick-or-treaters were too old to be asking for free candy, decided to make up packages of inedible treats to give the teens. The packages contained steel wool, dog biscuits and ant buttons. To her credit, she did clearly label the ant buttons "POISON" and cautioned the teenagers of her little prank. No one was injured, but the potential for harm was there, so the District Attorney prosecuted and she plead guilty to endangering children.
National panic about candy tampering didn’t reach an epidemic proportion however, until the New York Times ran an article in 1970 claiming that "Those Halloween goodies that children collect this weekend on their rounds of ‘trick or treating’ may bring them more horror than happiness." (NY Times, 10/28/70, pg. 56) The article went on to give specific and horrifying examples of potential tamperings. Since the Times article, the media has kept that fear alive. Even "Dear Abby" got in on the action by reminding parents of the danger that "…somebody’s child will become violently ill or die after eating poisoned candy or an apple containing a razor blade."
The truth about the dangers might not have been discovered, were it not for California researchers Joel Best and Gerald Horiuchi, who studied national crime data going back to 1958. In their 1985 published study, they found only 76 reports of any kind of tampering. Most of them turned out to be mistaken or fraudulent. Out of these 76 reports, only three incidents of children dying were reported to be tainted candy cases. In one case, the father of a Houston boy gave him arsenic laced candy to collect on a large insurance claim. In the second case, a boy stumbled across his uncle’s stash of heroin, ingested some of the drug and died. This boy’s family tried to hide the facts by sprinkling heroin over some of his other candy, but the family soon confessed to their cover-up. And in the third case, a Los Angeles girl had a fatal seizure that was first blamed on tainted candy, but later discovered to be the result of a congenital heart condition.

Contrast that with this:

According to the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, in 1995 about 2.9 million children in the United States were reported as abused or neglected to government agencies that investigate child abuse. Investigators substantiated abuse or neglect for more than 1 million of the children reported. Among substantiated cases, 52 percent involved physical or emotional neglect, 24.5 percent involved physical abuse, 12.6 percent involved sexual abuse, 4.5 percent involved emotional abuse, and 17.3 percent involved other abuse, such as educational neglect or abandonment. Some children experienced multiple forms of abuse.
Many researchers believe that statistics based on official reports do not accurately reflect the prevalence of child abuse. Definitions of maltreatment vary from state to state and among agencies, making such statistics unreliable. Professionals who interact with children—such as teachers, day-care workers, pediatricians, and police officers—may fail to recognize or report abuse. In addition, acts of abuse usually occur in the privacy of a family’s home and often go unreported. Surveys of families, another way of estimating abuse, indicate that 2.3 percent of children in the United States—or about 1.5 million children—experience abusive violence each year.
The U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect estimates that 2000 children under the age of 18 are killed by parents or caretakers each year. Annually, more children under the age of four die from abuse and neglect than from falls, choking on food, drowning, fires, or motor vehicle accidents. More than 18,000 children suffer permanent disabilities from abuse or neglect annually.


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