Sunday Reflections: It’s Not Transgender People in the Bathroom I Worry About When I Think About Sexual Violence
Many years ago I sat at the Reference Desk reading a brief story in Library Journal that I would never forget. It was close to closing time when a mother and daughter walked up to the Circulation Desk to check out their books. The young girl was 8. They were in a library somewhere in Pennsylvania I believe. The girl asked for the key to the restroom, which was kept locked. As she walked in to the restroom a man followed in behind her unbeknownst to anyone and he raped her. He wasn’t a transgender woman. He wasn’t a man “wearing a dress” so he could walk into a girls bathroom and rape our daughters. He was just a man wearing whatever men wore on that day. He didn’t have to “dress up”, he just walked in.
Three years ago my family and I drove from Texas to Las Vegas for the ALA Annual Conference. In the middle of nowhere New Mexico, barren and hot and vast, we stopped at a rest stop to use the bathroom. As we got out of the cars we read signs in the rocky landscape around us: ” beware of rattle snakes”. Inside the building my girls waited for me as I went in to use the restroom. On the wall was another sign: “Are you traveling of your own free will? Is someone making you do things you don’t want to do?” It was a sign about human trafficking. I walked back out and made the girls follow me into the restroom; made them stand in a 6×6 foot stall with me, locked safely inside where I could see them, just in case. Here was yet another reminder that our children aren’t safe in the restroom, but not for the reasons we keep hearing.
I am, in fact, afraid of my children’s safety in a public restroom. But it’s not transgender women that I fear. I’m not afraid of a man putting on a woman’s dress (not my description, but the argument I keep hearing) to gain access to a bathroom so that he can rape my daughters. . .
I fear the man who wakes up in the morning and puts on his armor of toxic masculinity; the type of man who will follow a young girl into the bathroom because he feels he has a right to take what he wants. He knows that there is no need to put on a dress. He knows that many of his friends will slap him on the back for his go-get-em attitude, for showing that bitch who’s in charge, for marking another notch on his belt. He knows that even if he gets caught he’ll get a slap on the wrist in a court of law, serving just 15 months for multiple crimes against multiple people, if it even makes it to a court of law.
I fear the man who wakes up in the morning and puts on the uniform of coach or teacher, using that uniform to gain access to vulnerable kids who trust him and have been taught that they can’t say no to authority figures.
I fear the man who wakes up in the morning and puts on the uniform of youth pastor or Sunday school teacher, hiding behind his bible as a token of righteousness while he preys and not prays on the very kids that trust him to teach them Godliness.
I fear the man who puts on the face of father or uncle or family friend; the man who use this mask in the middle of the night to tell our daughters that this is what love looks like, that they are special, that they are his favorite but they shouldn’t tell anyone because keeping it secret makes it all the more special.
I fear the man who puts on the uniform of police officer and receives the call when I report that my daughter has been the victim of sexual violence; the man who will ask why were you at that place at that hour doing that thing and wearing that outfit and question whether or not my daughter was “asking for it”.
I fear the man who puts on the robe and sits on the judges bench who will say, “but she looks older than 14”, “but she led him on”, “but we don’t want to ruin this man’s life” . . .
I fear the man who puts on the outfit of reporter who will write about my daughter in ways that suggest she is not an innocent party in this story because she had a drink, has had sex before, and after all, she went with him to his room so what did she expect was going to happen.
And I fear the man who will know that we’re so busy worrying about “men in dresses” in girls bathrooms that he follows a young boy into the restroom and rapes him, because we keep forgetting to talk about how boys sometimes rape boys and girls sometimes rape girls (and boys), sometimes in bathrooms but most often not really.
No, I’m not afraid of transgender people in the bathroom. But what I am afraid of is this: while we argue and debate and post memes on our Facebook pages about who should get to use which bathroom, we’re not having honest conversations with one another about what sexual violence is, what it looks like, who its victims are, and who perpetuates it. And while we’re not having those important conversations, a person is being raped every 2 minutes, usually not in a bathroom, usually by someone they know and trust, and usually they will be afraid to report it because they know that we will blame them.
Some facts about sexual violence:
Someone is raped every 2 minutes;
80% of the time it is by someone you know and trust;
Girls are not the only victims of rape, girls rape boys and boys rape boys;
We live in a world where very few rapes go to trial and when they do the sentencing is often light and we mourn the fact that the judge has ruined the lives of the boys found guilty:
We blame victims;
In 35 years of transgender rights there is 1 recorded case of a “man dressing up as a woman” to enter a bathroom and rape a girl;
Most rapes do not occur in bathrooms;
Basically, the way we are currently talking about sexual violence is completely wrong and does nothing to keep our children safe
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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