National Expert: Anti-LGBT “Bathroom Predator” Fears Are “Very Misinformed”

Another expert on sexual violence prevention has dismantled the anti-LGBT “bathroom predator” myth, explaining that the right-wing talking point misrepresents the reality of sexual violence and makes it harder to prevent sexual assault.

Last month, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a bill targeting the transgender community by banning people from using certain public restrooms that do not match the gender on their birth certificate. Despite the intense backlash to North Carolina’s law, legislators in at least in four other states -- Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and South Carolina -- are pushing for similar laws regulating transgender people's access to public restrooms. 

This national campaign for so-called “bathroom bills” is based largely on the anti-LGBT “bathroom predator” myth that these laws are needed to stop sexual predators from sneaking into women’s restrooms by pretending to be transgender. Law enforcement expertsgovernment officials, and women's safety advocates in cities and states across the country have thoroughly rejected the talking point, calling it “beyond specious.” But anti-LGBT activists have been largely successful at relying on the myth to push for “bathroom bills.”

Laura Palumbo is the communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) and a longtime expert on sexual violence prevention. NSVRC’s mission is to “provide leadership in preventing and responding to sexual violence through collaboration, sharing and creating resources, and promoting research.”

In an interview with Media Matters, Palumbo explained that the myth perpetuates false narratives about sexual violence, making it harder to prevent sexual assault.

Like other longtime advocates for victims of sexual assault, Palumbo said the “bathroom predator” talking point is based in “a lot of misinformation” about how sexual assault occurs. Palumbo said the myth operates off of the “wrong assumption that we know who predators are and what they look like or what they behave like. Most people who experience sexual violence are harmed by someone that they know and trust.”

Palumbo herself has “never heard of … instances” nor “seen any research” to substantiate the transgender bathroom boogeyman. Research supports Palumbo’s point, showing that sexual assault is overwhelmingly carried out by people victims know and trust. In Palumbo’s words, perpertrators are typically “people who are abusing a connection” -- not random predators pretending to be transgender.

Palumbo said the “bathroom predator” myth is the product of a basic desire to feel safe.

“It’s really hard to think about the fact that people that you know or are in your life could cause that level of harm or could hurt another person that way,” she said. “It’s easier for people to think that sexual violence happens because other people do it, or bad people do it, or because people in any sort of category commit sexual violence.”

The notion that there is “any connection between identity, orientation, and perpetration of sexual violence” is not only “very misinformed,” but it actually “makes it more difficult to prevent sexual violence,” Palumbo said. When people operate under these false assumptions, “they may not know what red flags to look for” to prevent sexual assault.

Palumbo also highlighted research showing that transgender people are extremely vulnerable to sexual violence, a reality the “bathroom predator” myth ignores.

“In the facts of sexual violence and the facts of rape and sexual assault, one of the most vulnerable populations there are is the transgender population,” she said. “There are unfortunately very, very high levels of sexual violence victimization among transgender individuals.”

Palumbo pointed to studies showing that nearly half of all transgender people experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetimes. When anti-LGBT activists cast transgender people as sexual predators, it “further silences the fact that these are individuals who experience increased vulnerability to sexual violence,” she said.

Palumbo joins a list of sexual assault prevention advocates -- hailing from states including Washington, Texas, North Carolina, and Florida -- who support nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people, suggesting that those who want to combat sexual violence can find “a very valuable role to play in creating welcoming and respectful settings for people no matter how they identify or how they express their sexual orientation.”