Stranger Danger in the Target Bathroom and Other Ridiculous Myths

In solidarity with the federal Equality Act, Target recently announced an inclusive bathroom policy welcoming “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.” This sent the blogosphere into chaos. Bloggers literally lost their collective minds. Some claimed the inclusive policy could be dangerous for women and children. Real talk, people wrote that women and children were more likely to be sexually assaulted as a result of the policy.

This claim makes two absurd assumptions. First, that people in the LGBTQ community are sexual perpetrators. One blogger even went as far as to ask why “Target is willing to forego the safety of many to appease the internal struggle of the few.” This is a dangerous and outrageous leap. The writer suggests that the LGBTQ community is inherently unsafe or sexually predatory and perpetuates baseless stereotypes that put people at greater risk for harm. In fact, research shows that the LGBTQ community is more likely to be victims of sexual abuse/assault, not perpetrators. Do not jump to the conclusion that victims become abusers—that’s a whole other blog post.

The second assumption presented is that men and women will pretend to be transgender to enter either bathroom so they can molest women and children. The hypothesis here is that strangers are the perpetrators of sexual crimes. The reason this is dangerous is that we are continuing to teach children the idea of “stranger danger.”

This is a missed opportunity to teach our kids about more likely dangers. In reality, 93% of children who have been sexually abused are known by their perpetrator. What does this mean? Typically, perpetrators are acquainted to their victim—they already know the child in some way and may even be a trusted adult.

Let’s backtrack for a bit. Where did this obsession with stranger danger come from? Highly publicized cases of abductions and child sexual abuse date all the way back to 1874. In one case, a four-year-old boy was lured into a wagon (#oregontrail) by two men that offered him candy.  More recently, we’ve heard about Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard, or Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus in Cleveland who were held captive against their will for years. These cases are so compelling because we see their family members on television, we feel like we know them, and become emotionally invested in the cases. We relate to them, making it easy to imagine that something like this could happen to your own child. Side note: stranger abductions make up 1/100th of 1 percent of all abductions—again, it’s usually a parent or someone the child knows.

Let’s be clear, it is always a good idea to teach children to be vigilant and cautious in any situation. It’s our job to help them navigate the world. If we want to keep kids safe, let’s not just focus on stranger danger (or inclusive bathrooms), but instead, let kids know that child sexual abuse happens right at home. Unfortunately, offenders are most likely someone you or your child already knows and trusts. So, how do we protect kids?

  1. Know the signs (we have some here).
  2. Talk and listen to them. Only 1 in 10 children actually report child sexual abuse. Let your kids know they can come to you and that it’s not OK to keep secrets.
  3. Minimize opportunity. Educated children are harder targets for abuse. Teach your kids about body parts that are private and use correct terminology. If something does happen to their body, they will have the words to tell an adult. Trust your child’s instincts. If they say they don’t want to be alone with a person, there’s probably a reason why.
  4. Know how to report and make the call—you may help keep other kids safe, too. Stay calm, and listen. Gain minimal facts and let the professionals conduct an investigation. Not sure how to report? Let us tell you.

Don’t be afraid to have an open dialogue with kids. Arm them with knowledge. Give them the capacity to keep their bodies safe and the tools to respond if something happens. Be proactive; not reactive.

And if your child has to pee at Target, treat it just like you would if your child had to pee at Walmart. Provide proper supervision and guidance, encourage your child to use the buddy system (but we think Target has better home décor).

Picture taken from “Continuing to Stand for Inclusivity.”  

Nikki Daskalakis, LCSW-C and Sammy Jo Kanekuni, LCSW-C are forensic interviewers at Baltimore Child Abuse Center and best friends.

Pokemon Go: Should you play, or Should you go?

The ever changing world of the internet has thrown its latest hurdle to parents of cell-phone wielding children and teens: Pokemon Go. Coverage on Pokemon Go has been excessive, and unless you have been hiding like Pikachu, chances are you have heard of it (but just in case you haven’t click here). Like every other app this game comes with pluses and minuses, and as our Executive Director Adam Rosenberg says “I am not saying no, but I am not ready to say yes.” So here are some things to think about before you or your kids go out and play.

What’s great about Pokemon Go is that the game encourages children to get outdoors and move around – not just sit on the couch. It encourages “IRL” (in real life) meet ups and interaction with other players. However, there have already been reports of the game being used to commit crimes and causing accidents: one player sexually assaulted at a game stop; a “PokeStop” in California located at a facility housing sex offenders; armed robbers “lure” victims; and police patrol car sideswiped by a driver playing the game. These stories illustrate the more concerning safety issues at play – not just with Pokemon Go, but with social media and technology in general.

When playing Pokemon Go, children unintentionally give real life location information which allows the game and other users to identify where they are while playing. Just like on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, Pokemon Go relies on geo-tagging data to be able to place players in the game. Geo-tagging draws a virtual map of your life. It allows others to see your child’s daily habits and routines, and gives them potentially dangerous knowledge of you and your child’s coming and goings. The game also utilizes your phone’s camera to superimpose the image of Pokemon characters onto the real world. Previous incidents with camera hacking, have allowed access to computer cameras and video which recorded people unbeknownst to them and without permission.

Additionally, players can set a “Lure” to draw more Pokemon and ultimately players to a single location. As if the name wasn’t creepy enough, this function can easily be used to attract potential victims to a single space. Equally troubling is that “PokeStops” can sometimes be in unsafe or risky locations. In BCAC’s neighborhood, there is a “PokeStop” and a “Training Gym” next door to a substance abuse treatment center and another in a vacant office.

So what can you do to keep your kids safe? BCAC recommends that parents check out the Social Preference Caps (the settings which can allow parents to set limits on both the chat and trade functions). Make sure that the location services are turned off when the game is not being used, and consider turning off location services for other apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook. Most importantly, BCAC recommends parents:

  1. Take Charge: set ground rules with your kids and understand the Privacy Policies
  2. Monitor: look at what your kids are doing, what sites are they going to, who are they talking to
  3. Communicate: talk to your kids about the very real risk games and social media can pose

Don’t want your home or business to be a PokeStop? BCAC felt that as a space which helps heal traumatized children, it was not appropriate for our center to be one. Therefore, we submitted a request to be removed from the game. You can submit a request to be removed as a stop by clicking here.

So should you “catch them all?” Before we shut the door on Pokemon Go, consider using it as an opportunity to get out there and play as a family. Do not let your kid stumble over sidewalks and walk into standing objects alone while looking for Vaperon or Mewtwo. Explore the game with them, and don’t be afraid to set ground rules on when and where they can play. Or if Pokemon Go or online gaming isn’t for you, grab a ball and a mitt and have an old-fashioned catch, or go for a walk in your local park IRL with your kid, not looking at a phone.

For more information visit BCAC’s website  OR to get training for your child’s school or local PTA on internet safety please contact BCAC by email at training@bcaci.org or by phone at 410-396-6147.

Drew Fidler, LCSW-C is the Policy and Program Development Manager and a Forensic Interviewer at BCAC. Drew interviews child victims of crime and works with Youth Serving Organizations to analyze their systems relating to protecting children, conducts trainings, and writes policy on keeping the kids in their care safe. In her spare time, Drew prefers to play Candy Crush and Words with Friends.