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Monday, June 6, 2016

Bathroom Panic

I’ve been asked many questions about transgender men and women using bathrooms and parental concerns about sexual abuse. The questions themselves sometime imply that transgender people are more likely to abuse and this reminds me of a similar myth that is still perpetuated about Gay men.

Fact Check: Gender identity and same sexual orientation are not predictors of child sexual abuse. The vast majority of child sexual abusers are heterosexual males.

North Carolina’s House Bill 2 and similar legislation ban people from using public bathrooms that do not correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate. Proponents of such legislation argue that it’s important because a transgender person, or someone posing as transgender, might otherwise enter a women’s restroom and attack a young girl.

Fact Check: There are hundreds of nondiscrimination measures in place across the United States, and according to law enforcement officials, there has not been a surge in bathroom victimizations.

Unbeknownst, you and your children have been sharing public bathrooms with transgender men and women long before North Carolina passed House Bill 2 and well before Target announced a policy allowing transgender people to use the restroom of their choice. We didn’t worry it about it then and we shouldn’t worry now.

Fact Check: Child sexual abuse typically takes place in homes, youth organizations, schools, camps, and places of faith – not typically in public bathrooms.

“Stranger danger” is among a parent’s worst fear and such occurrences garner a great deal of media attention because they are brazen and sometimes horrific, but in day-to-day reality, people who sexually abuse children typically “groom” children and teens over days, weeks, and months. The abuser is not just alone with the child, but has authority over the child and takes advantage of the child’s trust.

Fact Check: 90-93% of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows and trusts, who is already in their life – not by strangers.

Parenting Safe Children
Test Your Knowledge
This statistic may not feel entirely reassuring because it means that 7-10% of abuse is committed by someone the child does not know, but this is not necessarily in a bathroom.

Female survivors are speaking up as well and a few have shared in the press that it would be traumatic to find a person with male genitals in the bathroom. My heart goes out to every survivor healing from sexual assault. It may be helpful to know that most gender neutral bathrooms, particularly at this point, are single-stall bathrooms – often labeled “Family Restroom” –  so anyone using that bathroom is alone anyway.

In the absence of facts, I believe that people are contributing to a climate of discrimination that hurts transgender people – and does nothing to keep children safe from sexual abuse. In fact, discrimination not only hurts the group whom it targets, but in this case it’s a dangerous distraction. I urge people to redirect their focus to meaningful ways of keeping children safe.

  1. Educate yourself about grooming behaviors so you can spot behaviors of concern.
  2. Teach children the difference between secrets and surprises. A secret is something that someone asks you “never” to tell and makes you feel uncomfortable. A surprise is something that makes you feel good and will come out into the open like a gift or a party.
  3. Maintain a “No secrets” policy in your home. Let your kids know that you don’t have secrets, only surprises. Instead of saying, “Don’t tell Mom I let you stay up tonight or we’ll both get into trouble,” you might say, "I'll let you stay up late tonight and if Mom and I disagree about bedtime, we'll work it out. It's not your problem."
    Parenting Safe Children
  4. Discuss boundaries around touch with all of your child’s caregivers, including family members, coaches, teachers, and faith leaders, and let caregivers know that your child does not keep secrets and has permission to tell you everything.
  5. Let adults know that your child has permission to say “No” if he or she ever feels unsafe.
Parenting Safe Children stands in unison with 250 national, state and local organizations, that work to prevent child sexual abuse or work with sexual assault and domestic violence survivors, in supporting equal bathroom access for transgender people.

Three Questions Every Parent Should Ask This Summer!

Parenting Safe ChildrenIt’s never too late to talk with your camp or summer program director about child sexual abuse prevention. Here are the three must-ask questions:

1.  Beyond background checks, what is the screening process for new hires?

Look for camps & programs that have a three-part staff interview process:  Background checks, personal interviews, and reference checks. Background checks alone are not enough because most people who sexually abuse children are never legally identified and won’t come up on a background check. Interviews should include questions about counselors’ boundaries with children and a discussion of the camp’s zero tolerance of sexual abuse. The reference check might include a question about how the candidate upholds boundaries with children.

2.  What kind of child sexual abuse prevention training do you offer staff and volunteers?

Camps typically provide orientation for staff. Find out if and how the orientation includes training about child sexual abuse prevention. The training should dispel common myths about sexual abuse, introduce body-safety policies, cover how sexual abusers groom children, and identify warning signs that someone is abusing or being abused.

3. What specific policies are in place to minimize the risk of child sexual abuse at your camp? 

Make sure there is a rule for adults spending time alone with children (two adults to one child); appropriate and inappropriate touch of children by adults – and by other children. If your child is going to a sleep-away camp, also ask about showering policies and sleeping arrangements.

Up to 50 percent of child sexual abuse is committed by youth, so it’s important to discuss policies for older kids spending time with younger kids. Just as a counselor should never be alone with a child, an older camper should not be spending time one-on-one with a younger camper either.

PSC Conversation-Starter Cards

If you’re not sure how to start a safety conversation and invite someone onto your prevention team, check out the Parenting Safe Children Conversation-Starter Cards