This week on Facebook my sister posted an ominous message - creep alert at the Sunoco gas station women's bathroom on Hwy 11/15 S near Harrisburg, PA. Only later did I learn a man had followed her into the bathroom, stood on the toilet and started to look over the stall. My quick thinking sister jumped up, yelled in his face and ran out. Did I mention I have a very smart sister?! Yes, I do! Thankfully she was not hurt, yet this situation is an excellent reminder of how vulnerable public restrooms can be not only for adults but especially for children.
As a single parent when my children were younger the rule was we all went to the bathroom together regardless if you had to go or not. My son is my youngest child and he simply accepted this as par for the course. He went with mom and sissy into the womanís bathroom unless we were with a male family member or friend. Then I took my children into the city to see a Disney on ice. We were 3 out of thousands of families who attended. There were thousands of people there.
As we were leaving after the show we decided to use the facilities before making the 40 minute ride home. This was the night my 5 year old son decided it was time to assert his need for independence in the bathroom. He insisted that he could go into the menís room (alone) and would meet me and sissy in a few minutes. He was quickly overruled and despite the temporary moment of dissatisfaction he verbalized, he accompanied us into the womanís restroom and was relieved to see he was not the only 5 and 6 year old boy with their mom.
I began letting my children go into a public restroom in a restaurant when they were 8 and 4 or 9 and 5, but ONLY if I could clearly see the womanís restroom from where we were sitting. Some of my friends who also had children the same age had no problem letting a 5 or 6 year old girl go to the womanísí restroom even if it was clear across a large room and out of sight from the table.
Many restrooms are isolated and out of sight which makes them the perfect place for a child predator to wait for his or her next victim. Remember that predators do not look dangerous. They look just like you and me. They are businessmen, doctors, dentists, fathers, husbands, teenagers and they do not were a sign that says I am a child predator.
At a local indoor fun place and pizzeria for kids, many parents feel safe because every child and parent has their hand stamped with an ultraviolet identification number. Children who leave with a grown-up must match the number on the adultís hand. The main exit is watched by an employee at all times.
Yet, this leads to a false sense of security for parents. This is a public place and anyone with or without a child is allowed to enter. The place is huge, noisy, and the bathroom is in the back of the building. In addition the music is so loud that a child screaming would never be heard unless someone walked into the restroom and even then with the level of music that is piped in it would be hard to discern if a child was having a temper tantrum or being hurt.
Public restrooms present a challenge for families. Teach children of all ages to stay together when using a public restroom. Parents should always accompany a younger child regardless of gender. Some places, like airports, zoos, amusement parks and shopping malls have implemented family restrooms. A family restroom is a single larger bathroom that several family members can use together. This way everyone stays safe!