Stranger Danger? Sexual Assault and Public Restrooms

11034191_799415880126853_4043483562325079506_nA mother's snapshot of a sign posted at a mall's restrooms has generated a lot of heated discussion on the City Moms Blog Network Facebook page. Primarily, the response to this sign is that the mall has no business telling parents how to parent, and that most moms will take their young sons into the women's restrooms with them as long as they feel that doing so is a necessary part of keeping their children safe. Most women who commented on the post feel that 6 is too young to go into the men's room alone; however, the main issue they have is that the mall would impose a rule based on an arbitrary age and would not offer an acceptable alternative, such as a family restroom. Some of those who did not feel that 6 was "too young" to go to the men's room alone pointed out that dangers are everywhere, and we cannot possibly protect our children from every possible situation. Instead, we need to prepare our children to navigate difficult situations and foster their independence. Neither the "too old" or the "too young" side is without merit. Yes, children may be at risk of assault in a public restroom. However, that risk is small, and children are much more likely to be sexually abused by a family member or someone they know than a stranger. In 1998, nine-year-old Matthew Cecchi stepped into a public restroom just a few steps from his family's campsite. While his aunt waited just outside the door of the men's room, a 20-year-old man entered the restroom, slit the boy's throat, and left. The aunt, wondering what was taking the boy so long, entered the restroom to find her nephew's body. In September 2013 in Oklahoma City, an 8-year-old girl walked into a gas station restroom to discover a nearly-naked man waiting inside. He locked her inside and attempted to strangle her with a coat before her parents were able to get the door unlocked. In January 2014, a man entered the women's restroom at a Denny's restaurant and sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl as she stepped out of the stall. Last fall, a man followed a 7-year-old girl into the women's restroom at park, where he sexually assaulted her. Obviously, there are reasons to fear letting a child go into a public restroom unattended. Statistically, though, these risks are very small. According to the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead (raccfm.com), 93 percent of child sexual assault victims know their abuser. More than one-third of the abusers (34.2 percent) are family members, and only 7 percent are strangers. For more information about child sexual abuse, including how to protect your child and what to do if your child says he or she is being molested, visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

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