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14 Apr 2012
Halloween sadism can be viewed as an urban legend, which emerged during the early
1970s to give expression to growing fears about the safety of children, the danger of
crime, and other sources of social strain.
Urban legends are responses to social strain, shaped by the perception of the threat and
social organization.
Halloween sadism is thought to involve random, vicious, unprovoked attacks against
small children. The attacks seem irrational, and the attackers are routinely described as
disturbed or insane.
These “child-haters” are theorized to “have had a really deprived childhood” having been
abused as children,” they are now “frustrated and filled with resentment against the
world in general”
Roots of an Urban Legend
Halloween sadism as a serious threat can be understood using a concept developed
By folklorists: Halloween sadism is an urban legend
Urban legends are contemporary, orally transmitted tales that “often depict a clash
between modern conditions and some aspect of a traditional life-style”
They describe criminal attacks. contaminated consumer goods, and other risks of modern
Halloween sadism combines two themes found in several other urban legends: danger to
children (e.g., the babysitter who cooks an infant in a microwave oven; the child
kidnapped from a department store or an amusement park); and contamination of food
(e.g., the mouse in the soft-drink bottle; the Kentucky Fried Rat)
These legends, like that of the Halloween sadist, are typically told as true stories. They
“gratify our desire to know about and to try to understand bizarre, frightening, and
potentially dangerous or embarrassing events that have happened.
By repeating urban legends, people can respond to social strain, expressing
their doubts about the modern world.
Threats to Children
The form of strain that seems most clearly linked to a belief in Halloween sadism was the
growing sense that children were no longer safe in the United States.
The clearest link between threats to children and the fear of Halloween sadism appeared
during the series of murders of Atlanta schoolchildren. In 1980, STOP, an organization of
the victims’ parents, argued that “the city should organize Halloween night events that
will minimize dangers to the children.
Fear of Crime
Other forms of strain involved more general threats. The fear of crime focuses on the
threat of an anonymous attacker.” The threat of an unpredictable, unprovoked
Criminal attack parallels the Halloween sadist menace.
Mistrust of others
The social conflicts of the 1960s and early 1970s may have encouraged doubts about
the trustworthiness of other people. Such doubts provided another form of strain during
the period when the belief in Halloween sadism spread.
These sources of strain- threats to children, fear of crime, and mistrust of others-provided
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