Prevention or Discrimination?


I’ve been asked a lot of questions lately about transgender men and women using bathrooms and parental concerns about sexual abuse. 

North Carolina’s House Bill 2 law and similar legislation ban people from using public bathrooms that do not correspond with their biological sex. Proponents of such legislation argue that it’s important because men might otherwise enter women’s restrooms and attack young girls.

Well, I’ve got news for you: You 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 then and we shouldn’t worry now – if people simply embrace fact over myth, acceptance over fear, and follow basic Parenting Safe Children safety rules.

First the facts:

  • 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. Here’s why:
  • 90% of child sexual abuse is committed by someone the child knows and trusts, who is already in their life – not by strangers.
  • Child sexual abuse takes place in homes, youth organizations, schools, camps, places of faith – not typically in retail or large public bathrooms.
  • 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.

Yes, it’s important to teach children safety rules about using public bathrooms, just like you would educate your child about safe practices for walking home from school. For instance, teach your child to use public bathrooms in groups of two or more and to let an adult know when separating from a larger group to use the restroom. If it’s a younger child, you’ll either be accompanying him or her, or standing outside the door.

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.”
  4. Discuss boundaries around touch with all of your child’s caregivers, including family members, coaches, teachers, and faith leaders. Let each person 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 proudly stands in unison with 250 national, state and local organizations, that work with sexual assault and domestic violence survivors, in supporting equal bathroom access for transgender people.

Test your Knowledge about Child Sexual Abuse.


One response to “Prevention or Discrimination?”

  1. Unknown Avatar

    Feather! And Parenting Safe Children — thanks so much for posting this! I've been very frustrated with people that support discrimination against my daughter — and claim that it will limit sexual assault — when we know it won't. However, many years ago my church had a sexual predator, and these methods DID protect my kids from him. As you say he groomed kids over years, and had them keep secrets. Thank you for educating us on how to protect our kids!

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