Recent Concerns With Bathroom Bills and Sexual Assault

The latest developments regarding numerous “Bathroom Bills” in states like North Carolina and Target’s recent policy change in regards to the transgender community has once again instigated a debate between the freedom and safety of trans individuals and the protection of people from acts of sexual violence. While legislators and conservative organizations have said these new bills would prevent assault, hundreds of other organization say otherwise.

Human rights organizations, as well as over 200 national, state, and local organizations specializing in work with sexual assault survivors, have objected movements to implement these laws and hinder transgender individuals from using the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity. And even in 18 states and 200 municipalities that have passed non discrimination laws, “‘none of those jurisdictions have [sic] seen a rise in sexual violence or other public safety issues due to nondiscrimination laws. Assaulting another person in a restroom or changing room remains against the law in every single state.’”

In an article from 2014, Media Matters details accounts and testimonies from 15 experts, ranging from state commissions to police departments, debunking myths of sexual assault perpetrated by individuals exploiting anti-discrimination laws. And in another article from 2015, Mic reiterated the message Media Matters had presented: statistics show that zero cases of abuse have arisen from anti discrimination laws pertaining to restroom access. Politifact also reviewed statements from Equality NC Director Chris Sgro in 2016 on there not being public safety risks in cities with anti-discrimination measures. Other than an incident in Canada and “a few yet-unproven allegations,” Politifact rated Sgro’s comments as Mostly True.

Conservative groups have pointed out that these bills aimed to force trans women to use the men’s restroom and visa versa are meant to protect women and children from assault by those claiming to be transgender and individuals who would misuse the law. The conversation has almost exclusively centered around trans women with no mentioning of trans men and hardly anything on non binary, intersex, and other individuals within the transgender umbrella.

The focus on the argument that trans women are actually men attempting to gain access into women’s spaces has been a repeatedly used fallacy to facilitate fear mongering and opposition to the transgender community. And the broad labeling of this community as confused and predatory is nothing new. It’s both a tactic of demonizing unknown and foreign communities and cultures as well as to perpetuate a misogynistic culture that objectifies women.

Throughout history, especially in 19th century America, violence towards African Americans and other minorities have been justified through the stereotyping of these communities as sexually deviant and preying on innocent women and children. For example, many consensual interracial relationships, between black men and white women, were accused as acts of rape. It aimed at preventing these relationships, preserving discriminatory stereotypes and laws, and to maintain dominance over whom white women were permitted to love and associate. Two massacres, the Tulsa race riot of 1921 and the Rosewood massacre of 1923 were instigated by accusations of sexual assault against black men.

And this extends to other nations as well. While colonizing India, British officials saw certain relationships and gender identities as barbaric, backwards, and uncivilized and used these instances to further push for instilling “civilization” in these new regions. Any identity not consistent with the ideals of Western society were seen as incompatible and deviant. And this school of thought has permeated from  conquering forces to the societies under their rule, and maintained itself as unfounded prejudices disguised as legitimate concerns.

It manifests itself as the need to defend women and children from these barbaric practices, that exposure to these communities or any form of association is an act of putting the innocent into harms way. But the outrage towards community leaders, relatives, and celebrities who hold high status or are within the same culture is unparalleled to that of the anger towards those who do not fit that description. And levels of victim blaming in cases of sexual assault are unfortunately high, both by perpetrators and by community members.

The fallacy of working to protect wives and daughters not only excludes male and non binary victims of sexual assault, but is often a tool of objectification that treats women as possessions rather than individuals with genuine concerns and fears from several aspects of society. And it further reinforces strict interpretations of masculinity and femininity in our culture.

A US national study in 2013 reported that sexual violence has taken hold at a young age, and victims who experienced violence and spoke up were “often shamed or ostracized — if they’re even taken seriously at all“.  And according to a study on sexual assault in 2013 conducted by the United Nations, lack of comprehensive sex education paired with society objectifying women has contributed to high rates of sexual violence and a lack of understanding of what constitutes as such. The report also noted:

One of the fundamental concepts at the heart of “rape culture” is the idea that rape is inevitable, men can’t help themselves, and women must therefore work to protect themselves against it. Within the context of rape culture, the idea that men are entitled to sexual experiences is deeply entrenched. The UN researchers found that this attitude is pervasive among the rapists they surveyed. Among the men who acknowledged they had sexually assaulted someone else, more than 70 percent of them said they did it because of “sexual entitlement.” Forty percent said they were angry or wanted to punish the woman. About half of the men said they did not feel guilty.

This sudden concern for the safety of women and children by segments of the conservative movement is hard to take a genuine, for their concern about sexual assault rests predominantly in cases involving minority groups, like LGBT and  non-white communities. Major issues of reoccurring sexual assault and abuse, while certainly being talked about, does not receive the attention at the level that this issue is receiving.

Roughly 1 in 5 women survive sexual assault and 1 in 6 men are abused before the age of 18, with approximately 82% of sexual assaults being perpetrated by individuals known to the victim as reported by the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. And cases of widespread abuse have been documented for years in the areas of sports, religion, and other aspects of social life. While majority of these cases of assault are committed by known individuals, there’s a seemingly stronger concern on acts committed by strangers. This is not to say that one aspect of sexual assault trumps other cases, but that the levels of attention and outrage are irrationally and greatly disproportionate.

What some in the conservative movement are doing is not working to address the issue of safety and sexual assault, but to capitalize on fears and a handful of allegations to further their own agenda. The advancements of “Bathroom Bills” are less about safety than it is about hindering and discriminating against the transgender community. There’s overwhelming “concern” over the safety of women and daughters in this certain issue, but almost a complete absence of concern in regards to men and boys, despite high rates of assault.

Those introducing these bathroom bills are more involved with restricting transgender individuals and combating that which is unknown, and those listening and watching see this as an effort to promote safety. What’s adding to the dangerous environment for transgender individuals is the spread of misinformation. Rather than review facts, data, and a wide host of personal accounts from members in multiple communities, fear, hysteria, and intolerance has driven this anti-trans campaign and is further distorting efforts to seriously tackle sexual assault.


Photo Credit: Huffington Post


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