A report about a 6-year-old boy who was sexually molested in the men’s room at a public park in Los Angeles over the weekend is enough to keep any parent from every sending their child into a public restroom. According to the Los Angeles Times, the boy was attending a soccer match at Rio Hondo Park. He immediately reported what had happened to his mother and witnesses saw the suspect fleeing in a white van with a license plate that started with “6J,”says Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Thomas. Authorities have released a sketch of the suspect.
On the StrollerDerby blog at the parenting website Babble, Meagan Francis, who has four sons, asks if the child should have used the women’s room instead. That is, if you’re a woman, you have boys, you’re out in public without an adult male and your kids have to answer the call of nature, what should you do?
Of course stories like these always come with a rash of judgments against the mother, who “should never have let her child out of her sight for even a moment!” But it’s not always so easy. Five is the cutoff age where I’ve felt comfortable bringing my boys with me into a public restroom unless there was nobody else in there; some of my boys have started balking at using the ladies’ room well before their sixth birthdays, and often there are rules in place that limit how old a boy in the ladies’ room can be. While family restrooms are becoming increasingly available, you won’t find them at most parks, restaurants or big-box stores.
Stranger molestations in restrooms are extremely rare, and anyway, whether a child is 6 or 10 or even 13 doesn’t seem like it would make much difference in the case of a motivated pervert who happened to catch them in the right place at the right time.
Francis has her children use the buddy system when that’s possible and has coached them so they “understand that it’s always right to trust their instincts and get the heck out of a situation that’s making their mental alarm bells ring.” When she’s out with only one child, she says she “chalk[s] it up as one of those “risks with a lower-case ‘r’ ” and has a child go in alone.
As the parent of a disabled son, letting our teenage son use a public restroom is always a risk, as in a RISK. My son’s verbal abilities are not sufficient to tell us if something happened. As he is 14 years old but looks older, it’s extremely awkward to take him into a women’s room.
But safety always comes first and, on some very rare occasions, I have just decided to take my son into the women’s room. I used to be very shy about doing this from some deeply imbedded sense of “boys room vs. girls room” instilled in elementary school. But, especially after reading about the incident involving the 6-year-old boy in Los Angeles, I’ve just become prepared to explain the situation. Some women definitely look askance to see a tall teenage guy in the women’s room, but most quickly realize that Charlie is disabled and don’t say anything.
To me, the whole issue points to the need for more unisex and family public restrooms and restrooms for individuals with disabilities. Having such facilities means that my son and others can go to more places; can be a bit freer — let’s also make sure we can keep them safe, too.
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