What I want you to know about being a sexual abuse survivor and Target shopper

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s guest post is by an anonymous reader.

Nearly a year ago, I had to take a break from Facebook when the news of Josh Duggar’s history of child molestation broke. I couldn’t stomach posts accusing the media of unfairly targeting a Christian family instead of acknowledging that sexual abuse happens in our houses too. In fact, statistics support that.

Now, I’m taking another break. Christian friends are talking about sexual abuse again, but they aren’t defending it this time (thankfully). Instead they’re creating stories of the hypothetical assaults that will come against women and children at Target and elsewhere if policies permit people to use the bathroom of their choosing. This time, however, the statistics aren’t there. Actually, the people most likely to be sexually abused in a bathroom are our transgender friends.

I think the last word of my previous paragraph gives away our problem. Friends. It’s easy to ignore or vilify strangers, isn’t it? But when you have friends who are different from you, you gain insight into their perspective. We don’t all agree. That’s not the point, though. Knowing someone helps us humanize a person instead of demonizing a group of people.

Maybe you don’t have friends who are transgender, at least any you know about. But I’m sure you have friends who have actually been assaulted in some of the ways you’re surmising will occur if people get to choose their own bathrooms. I’m one of those survivors. I live in North Carolina. And? I want you to know I’m not scared for myself or my children when bathroom use is based on gender identity rather than biological sex.

I can’t say I feel safe in bathrooms, but no law will change that. For starters, assaults there do happen on rare occasions. But I don’t feel safe in bathrooms because I don’t feel safe anywhere; that’s a function of learning way too young that safety isn’t a guarantee for any of us, even in places that should be havens.

I also can’t say that all survivors agree with me. Obviously not. We’re a diverse bunch.

(That said, just because something triggers one of us doesn’t mean it’s true. For example, I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD. My elbow is injured right now from a non-abusive situation, but it’s the same elbow that was badly banged up during a horrific night in my past. The similar pain left me feeling like a live wire last night, unable to let my husband touch me without flinching. My agony was real, even though the danger wasn’t true.)

I know I’m writing this anonymously, but I want you to know that your friends who are sexual abuse survivors are watching what you say. We’ve seen you skip over every post we’ve been brave enough to share about rape or other assaults without a like or comment or care. Since so many of you have never shown attention to this issue before now, it’s hard to believe that you’re really concerned about abuse now. Instead, your arguments seem like you’re using safety as a red herring. Maybe you think arguments of hypothetical sexual assaults will be more culturally acceptable than simply saying that you think it’s morally or sexually deviant to be transgender. If so, please just say what you mean. It doesn’t feel good to see my hardest experiences used as your smokescreen.

As I read the posts you share, I do see that many of you have all of a sudden found stats on sexual abuse. I’m glad for that. They’re staggering, right? But if you’d been wading through these for more than a week or two, you’d know a few things.

You’d know that a child’s own home, neighborhood, church, or school is a far more dangerous place for molestation than a bathroom. You’d know that four of every five rapes are by someone known to the victim. You’d know that when bathroom assaults do happen, the targets are almost always transgender individuals not women and children. You’d know that the bathroom assaults that do happen against women and children are almost always committed by straight cisgender men. You’d know that these sorts of rare assaults occur at the same rates in places with or without laws allowing for people to use bathrooms of their choosing, so the slippery slope argument isn’t playing out like those peddling fear would have you believe. You’d know that laws against predatory behavior don’t prevent it. Maybe you’d realize legislating who can’t use a bathroom only keeps law-abiding citizens from entering the bathroom of their choice. (In this way, my stance mirrors the argument many gun rights advocates have against gun-free zones, that legislating against concealed carry of guns only keeps law-abiding gun owners from bringing their weapon to a school or park. Same same.)

My kids have a classmate who is transgender. If you want to argue against him using the bathroom that matches his expressed gender, I won’t like that. But? I’m not going to stop you. I might not agree with you, but I can respect your honesty. When you say this is all about the fear of hypothetical bathroom assaults, that’s where you lose me. If what you mean is that you don’t think people should be transgender so you don’t want them to be afforded the legal protection to use the bathroom matching their expressed gender, then say that. Don’t hide behind fear-driven hypotheticals.

Sexual abuse happens. I wish it didn’t. I wish it hadn’t to me. But creating laws about where someone can or can’t pee isn’t going to prevent abuse. Let’s hold accountable those who commit crimes when and if they commit them, instead of asking trans people to sacrifice bathroom safety to pay for crimes that non-trans people might possibly commit someday.

I’d rather not be writing this. I’d rather not be reading about it in every fifth post in my Facebook feed. But these posts don’t seem to be going away. So I want to use my voice to ask you to stop acting like you’re speaking for me as a survivor of sexual abuse. Because, honestly, Facebook feels way more unsafe to me right now than a Target bathroom does.



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