The common story filling your news and Facebook feed is all about gender neutral public bathrooms. Just in case you don’t fully know what that is, a bathroom that both men and women may use is a gender neutral bathroom. What’s happening today is just a bit different than businesses or government offices offering only one, gender neutral bathroom. There’s a recent activist movement that transgendered persons specifically may use whatever bathroom they identify with, presumably while the rest of us maintain use of the bathroom we appear to be equipped for. Never mind the total impracticality of enforceablity, which I may address in another post, but suffice it to say, the end game is, pragmatically, gender neutral bathrooms; everyone, regardless of gender or any other marker, has only one option available to them. Men and women and everyone in between will share a single public bathroom, simply because it is impossible to verify gender identity without a seriously long questionnaire.
Also in recent news is the department store, Target. Target has recently announced that all of their stores will allow and welcome transgendered persons to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. This announcement comes as a spin off of various bits of legislation either allowing or disallowing this, the most notable would be North Carolina House Bill 2.
Now that you’re all caught up, this post is about the reasoning that gender neutral bathrooms pose a sexual risk for women. This post is not an attempt to undermine the rights due to transgendered persons. It is not an effort to forward bigotry or mistreatment of any person. And it is not a declaration on the morality, biological “rightness”, or nature of people with gender dysphoria.
What got this post started was a picture on Facebook about the fact that most sexual crimes are many, many times more likely to be committed by someone you know, rather than by a stranger in a bathroom.
First off, the factoid is true. A huge majority of sexual crimes are committed by someone the victim knows. But something about the logic in the post bothers me. It took me a few minutes to figure it out. I’ll explain by way of metaphor. You’re many times more likely to be attacked by a bear than by a shark (at least where I live), but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to swim with sharks. Certainly, all sexual crime is deplorable, regardless of who commits it and when, just as being attacked by either a bear or a shark is likely to affect the victim nearly identically. The image targets the frequency of the attacks and equates the relatively high rate of one kind of attack with safety to exposure to the other kind. Whether attacks in public restrooms are so low as to not even be worth mentioning, I cannot say, but that doesn’t seem to be an important point, as I note later. (Now, transgendered persons are not the sharks or the bears in this metaphor. Specifically, both are sexual predators, just as the factoid in the image is about sexual predators who are either people you know or strangers. No reasonable person believes that transgendered persons are inherently dangerous sexual predators.)
One thing we do know about most crimes, including sexual crimes: they are opportunistic, rather than premeditated. Bathrooms are a quiet place, cut off from the relative safety you enjoy in public, where dozens of witnesses would likely help you if you were in trouble. This is one reason why you are more likely to be sexually victimized by a person you know. Gender neutral bathrooms allow for more opportunity for wouldbe sexual criminals, where the criminal can exploit the relatively hidden nature of the environment for his nefarious intents.
Now, I’ve done a bit of research and it seems that such laws have existed in the US for as long as 15 or 20 years, in dozens of cities, and remarkably there is indeed no statistical difference in the sexual crimes within the public bathrooms of those locations compared to others without such laws. According to the Huffington Post, there is only one such case where a sexual predator pretended to be transgendered to gain legal access to the women’s room.
However, should this concept become ubiquitous, that public bathrooms are gender neutral, we should realize that societal approaches to this kind of thing will also change. Today, I’d be surprised if even a small percentage of people are even aware of these laws in these cities. Generally, if a man enters a women’s room, the response will be a call the local authorities, or some other resistive action. But in a world where gender neutral public bathrooms are commonplace, no such action will occur, thereby, that opportunity mentioned previously widens. Women will simply accept it as a fact of life and yet another danger to their person.
Surely, predators will find plenty of opportunities in the gender neutral public bathroom. And they don’t have to actually be purposefully looking for those opportunities. For example, in a quiet store in the middle of the night, a predator may head to the bathroom just to use it because, well, he has to go. And while in there, a women that suits his fancy may also walk in for the same purpose. Knowing that the store is mostly empty and that he is shielded from the public and security camera’s eye, the man decides then that he will take advantage of her. Or on the college campus, a young woman has too wild of a night and passes out in the gender neutral bathroom. The next person in is a predator, who has also had a wild night of drinking, and decides on the spot that he will take advantage of the opportunity literally laid out in front of him.
These are real possibilities, and they are not limited to sexual assault. Gender neutral bathrooms will surely become a primary site for sexual harassment. Opportunistic predators aren’t necessarily looking for opportunities, but they do seize them when they surface. Knowing that they are shielded from the scrutiny of the public eye, they find it convenient to make off color remarks to their victims, or even threaten them. Perhaps sometimes remarks are tolerable elsewhere, because you feel less vulnerable there, but they are not tolerable in the bathroom. All this is taking place in the bathroom, a place where you feel very vulnerable, what with your pants down and everything.
Widespread gender neutral bathrooms would increase opportunity for sexual predators, therefore, increasing sexual crime. The question is, does this increase in sexual crime outweigh the rights due to transgendered persons? Without looking into numbers on anything, my gut reaction is yes it does. Perhaps this is because I don’t know any transgendered persons, and so do not understand the trouble they have when needing to use the bathroom. Transgendered persons, in my experience, often look like a man trying to be a woman, or a woman trying to be a man. Their biological sex is quickly identified, yet at the same time, so also is their gender dysphoria (maybe there’s a bunch of secret transgendered people about who stick to looking like their biological sex, but if there are, I don’t know about them). So when they try to use the bathroom, for either gender, they receive resistance, much like any other person does when they enter the restroom for the gender they do not appear to be. They are often subject to violence in the public bathroom. Crime is already opportunistically found in public bathrooms, and making them gender neutral would just increase criminal opportunity and likely not cut down on violence against transgendered persons. To help protect transgendered persons, a different solution must be found.
Thank you for reading. If you have a different opinion or would like to add to this one, please comment below. For some similar reasoning, but through another voice, consider The Case Against Fully Shifting To Gender Neutral Bathrooms. There’s still much I would like to look into regarding this. For starters:
- I’m under the impression gender neutral bathrooms are more common in Europe. How did they handle the issue when they made the switch (assuming there was a switch and they didn’t always have them)?
- What are sexual crimes like and Europe, specifically regarding their occurrence in public bathrooms?
- How many transgendered persons are there in the USA and what gender do they look like? Are they more commonly regarded as men or women? How often does that conflate with their gender identity? How frequently would they rather use the restroom for the gender they are not usually taken for? (Are we even trying to solve a common problem?)
- Is it financially viable for all places to offer individual, closed-room stalls when multiple restrooms are needed? Is there a space consideration?