Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla used to give talks to children about “stranger danger.”
But after 30-plus years in law enforcement, he says he’s learned it’s not the stranger that’s the problem.
“We’ve investigated over 800 cases of sexual abuse,” Sheriff Abdalla noted. “But of the people we’ve arrested, not one–not one–was a stranger. It was somebody they knew. Dad, stepdad, mom’s boyfriend, uncle, teacher, minister, it was always someone they knew.”
So his message has changed, from “stranger danger” to this:
“Immediately tell someone if someone hurts you in any way or asks you to do things,” Abdalla said. “Report it right away.”
In Ohio, registered sex offenders are prohibited by law from giving out candy at Halloween.
But the sheriff says there are predators out there who no one would ever suspect.
“Three years ago, we arrested three grandfathers, all up in their 70s, for molesting their granddaughters,” he said. “Who would ever have thought that would happen? I mean we’ve had some serious sex offenders in the county, raping children as young as three, four and five.”
Parents are more aware of the dangers these days.
Many parents, like Lauren Hersey of Rayland, will go with their children, and will only go to the homes of people they know.
“We actually go in a group every year, with other parents and other children,” said Hersey. “And you know, there’s power in numbers.”
And no candy is eaten until it’s examined.
“When we get home, we check through everything,” Hersey said. “You hear all the time about needles and razor blades and all this other crazy stuff. Even on the street where we’ve been going forever, we still check.”
Sheriff Abdalla says that’s how you make Halloween safe and fun.
Because the old warning about not taking candy from a stranger is not enough.
“What does a sex offender look like,” asked Abdalla. “We don’t know. We don’t know.”
The sheriff also gives the standard Halloween safety advice.
Wear light-colored clothing.
Carry a flashlight.
Go in a group.
And stay in well-lit areas where you know the people who live there.