What if a Pervert Pretending to be Transgender Entered the Opposite Sex's Bathroom?

What if a pervert pretending to be a transgender entered the opposite sex's bathroom? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Jae Alexis Lee, Trans Woman, on Quora.

What if a pervert pretending to be a transgender entered the opposite sex's bathroom? They may be guilty of specific crimes depending on where the event happens. Does this pervert do anything in the bathroom? Do they enter the bathroom, enter a stall, do their business, wash their hands and leave? Likely no charges will be filed. Do they expose themselves to people in the bathroom? Indecent exposure laws may apply. Do they attempt to peep on other people in the restroom or to videotape other people in the restroom? Voyeurism laws may apply. Do they attempt to assault someone in the restroom? Laws covering assault or sexual assault would apply.

In other words, the same things that would happen if a pervert not pretending to be transgender entered the opposite sex's bathroom.

Given that there are an estimated 1.4 million transgender adults in the US [1] and that the largest study on the trans population in the US conducted last year (sample size N=27,715) found that more than 1 in 10 transgender people have experienced harassment, assault or sexual assault in restroom in the past year, and that nearly 1 in 10 transgender people has been denied access to a restroom in the past year, [2] something becomes really obvious: While the chance of someone dressing up as the opposite sex to gain access to a gender segregated space is non-zero, we have no data to suggest that this very specific type of crime comes remotely close to the scale of transgender people who are victimized for trying to access restrooms appropriate to their gender identity. At the current rates of observed violence and harassment targeting transgender people attempting to use the restroom (data that is consistent with two previous studies on trans experience encountering violence in restrooms [3]  [4] though likely to be more accurate due to the substantially larger sample size in the 2015 study and potentially demonstrating an increase in the rate at which trans people experience violence and harassment in restrooms) we're talking about an estimated 140,000 transgender people who have been harassed, assaulted or sexually assaulted in the past year.

If the problem of people dressing up as the opposite gender to harass and assault people was a tenth of that, it would have been national news. As is, while instances of people dressing up as the opposite gender to commit crimes in restrooms or changing rooms is non-zero (and yes, in a population of 1.4 million transgender adults, we've had a few criminals who actually are trans), the problem is dwarfed by the number of trans people who are being harassed and attacked in restrooms every year.

The 2015 study demonstrated that 59% of trans people have avoided bathrooms in the past year because they were afraid of confrontations in public restrooms. That 31% have avoided eating or drinking so they would not need to use a public restroom and that 8% have suffered urinary tract or or kidney infection or other kidney related problems as a result of avoiding the restroom.

Studies have shown that transgender people have internalized a significant amount of stress, anxiety, depression and fear that relates to interactions with the general population and that overwhelmingly the place transgender people fear going the most is a public restroom. [5] The experiences of transgender people in this respect have been compared by researchers to the experiences of people with PTSD.

MP: Did any areas feel like true danger zones to your participants?

BR: Hands down, our participants told us that public restrooms created the most stressful situation for them.

They told us they experience stress and hypervigilance whenever they enter a restroom. They described routines of scanning the bathroom to see who's in there and who's not. Sometimes they'd sit in the stall and wait until everyone left the bathroom before going out to wash their hands. They train themselves not to make eye contact in bathrooms, to stay quiet and not draw attention to themselves. They overwhelmingly described this horrible stress. Some people want to keep trans people out of restrooms because they are afraid they are predators. In reality we know that trans people are actually the ones who are more likely to be violated in restrooms, that they have a lot of trauma around that experience.

[...]

I'm a clinical psychologist by training. I've worked with a lot of people with PTSD. Some of the common symptoms of PTSD include avoiding certain situations, reacting to certain cues in your environment, being on guard, having distressing nightmares. These narratives of fear, anxiety, hypervigilance and constant worry that we collected from our trans participants seem to be parallel to someone who's had a traumatic history.  [6]

It should be blindingly apparent that there is a need to take action to stop this kind of suffering on such a massive scale. In many states and cities, legislative remedy has been introduced or has been in place for years to protect transgender people's legal right to access spaces in accordance with their gender identity. Legal remedy, however, while absolutely vital, is insufficient to address a problem on this scale. Transgender people have reported a significant harassment from law enforcement which makes them both unlikely to seek aid if they feel unsafe and unlikely to report the harassment and violence they encounter in restrooms.

Police harassment and assault had an apparent deterrent effect on respondents' willingness to seek out help from law enforcement; 46% of the sample reported that they were uncomfortable seeking help from police while only 35% reported that they were comfortable doing so. [7]

It is my sincere hope that a combination of legislation that protects the rights of transgender people to access appropriately gendered facilities and training of law enforcement professionals to handle issues surrounding the transgender community will help significantly in the near term. In the long term, the only thing that's going to stop the violence is education. We need to talk about trans people, about gender nonconformity, about LGBT in general and we need to be able to have these conversations not just as adults, but with our children. I've been a teacher of both young children and teenagers and I know that it can be difficult for both parents and teachers to approach these issues with their students or their own children but I also know that when we teach children about people who are different it stops the fear of people who are different and stopping the fear is the only way we'll ever stop the violence.

Footnotes

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