Co-Ed Change Rooms: Do They Increase Sexual Attacks?

Co-Ed Change Rooms: Do They Increase Sexual Attacks? September 2, 2018
Co-ed change room sign
Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

The Sunday Times (UK) released a report yesterday on where sexual attacks in pools and Sports facilities were happening. The majority were in change rooms where both biological sexes were present. They use “sexual attack” as a broad term to include voyeurism, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. As the Times reported (my emphasis),

The majority of alleged sexual attacks at Britain’s public swimming pools and sports centres occur in unisex changing rooms, according to data obtained by The Sunday Times.

Nine out of 10 changing-room sexual complaints relate to incidents in unisex facilities — although they make up less than half of all provision.

Gender-neutral changing is growing as councils seek to cut staff costs and cater to transgender people. But one MP said it risked becoming a “magnet” for sex offenders and increased the danger to women and girls.

At least two-thirds of all sex incidents in public pools and leisure centres, whether inside or in the grounds, happen in unisex changing areas. Only a handful occur in single-sex changing rooms, the figures, released under freedom of information (FoI) laws, show.

Unisex or Transgender Change Rooms

The movement in recent years has been towards unisex change rooms or allowing transgender individuals to use the change room they identify as. Often this latter doesn’t require anything beyond self-affirmation. The same article also discusses this.

David Davies, MP [equivalent to congressman] for Monmouth, said the data showed it would be “wrong and dangerous” for the government to pursue controversial plans for transgender people to “self-identify” as women.

Feminists claim that the proposals, which are out for consultation, will turn every female facility into a mixed space, allowing any man to identify as a woman and enter. Campaigners do not suggest that the main threat to women comes from trans people, but from men.

“These figures show that women and girls are more vulnerable in mixed changing rooms and there is a danger these places are becoming a magnet for sexual offenders,” Davies said. “It simply doesn’t make sense to enable men to have greater access to women’s spaces. The reforms to gender recognition will grant that access.” […]

Nicola Williams, the spokeswoman for Fair Play for Women, said “spaces where women are undressed should be single-sex as a matter of course. This is obvious, elementary safeguarding.”

The article gives us two examples of the problem.

The data emerged four days after Darren Johnson, a serial voyeur, was sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment after stalking schoolgirls in the mixed changing area of Putney leisure centre in southwest London. Johnson was caught after two 14-year-olds spotted his smartphone poking through a gap from the adjoining cubicle. When police raided his house, they found 150 files of photos taken at the centre. A second voyeur, Anthony Gomes, was caught in the same unisex changing area a few weeks later.

Analysis

Most change rooms are single-sex, yet these only accounted for 14 of 134 reports of sexual attacks in change rooms. This is completely disproportionate. Change rooms where both sexes are present have far more attacks.

I think two things become clear in this report. First, we need to protect women and girls by giving them their own changing facilities in public spaces. It seems evident that they are far more likely to have trouble in a unisex or co-ed change room. Second, there are questions about how to deal with transgender individuals regarding bathrooms and change rooms. We need something beyond the self-affirmation in order to allow someone in opposite-sex change rooms. Otherwise, we allow creepy men to enter women’s change rooms: they can lie that they identify as female. Of course, such prevention can’t eliminate all sexual assault, but it will likely reduce the chances. We need compassion for people struggling with gender dysphoria. However, allowing anyone to use any change room or restroom doesn’t seem to be the answer: it sets up a situation where sexual attacks happen too often.


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