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?
- Know the signs (we have some here).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.