Although there is a lot of talk in North Carolina these days about little girls falling victim to men who dress up as women and lurk in rest-stop bathrooms, the truth is that is not where most of the child sexual predators are hanging out. They are far more likely to be people you know and like.
Since the passage of HB2, the so-called “bathroom bill,” we’ve heard a lot of talk about having to protect children from strangers. Which made me think about the children I’ve represented who were left unprotected. None of them were caught in the bathroom by a stranger. I’ve never heard of such a thing.
I’m not saying that the “disguised in the bathroom” crime has never occurred. Perhaps it has. We haven’t heard about any examples, though, which seems odd, given all the talk. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t worry about your own children or the children in your care when you take them out in public, or that you should blissfully let them get out of your sight. There is a lot of crime out there, no doubt about it.
But here’s the thing. Of all my clients over the years who were victimized as children, none of the predators were strangers. And my experience falls in line with what researchers tell us. The typical sexual assault against a child is committed by someone the child knows.
What kinds of cases do we lawyers who represent sex abuse victims typically see? The after-school program counselor. The church youth group leader. The doctor. The foster father. The priest. The boss. The teacher. The mother’s boyfriend. The friendly neighbor. The father. The best friend’s father. These adults (not always men!) knew the kids and gained their trust, which took a long time. Through a process called “grooming,” they paid special attention to the children and made them feel loved, long before making their moves. The children were talked into it, through persuasion, threats, or guilt.
As if in response to a wave of toilet crimes, The North Carolina legislature and Governor McCrory have focused almost exclusively on fear of strangers in bathrooms in their defense of HB2. But in addition to regulating which bathroom a person (or child over seven, no exception for kids with disabilities) can use, the law also wiped out the rights of cities to help working people get an increase in the minimum wage, and destroyed the rights of employees to sue for discrimination. That’s not something they are talking about.
So, how to protect your child? Watch where they go and what they do, and check their internet use. But primarily, beware of these relationships with special adults in their lives. Is sexual abuse going to happen in the public restroom? Maybe. But probably only if a child is taken there by their special adult friend.