How Safe Are Your Bathrooms?
Bathrooms are a place of privacy–so most of us have been taught from childhood. That privacy is good as it allows users a degree of modesty and it gives the rest of us separation from those personal activities, which our culture considers private. However, it also provides seclusion – a place where supervision may be less than desired. Incidents of inappropriate behavior in bathrooms have increased significantly. Inadequate bathroom supervision allows children the opportunity to explore their curiosity or potentially be involved in other inappropriate acts, both of which constitute unacceptable behavior in your organization. Accessible unmonitored bathrooms can also allow predators unobserved access to children.
Whether the abuser is an adult or child, the necessary factors for inappropriate behavior normally are contact, seclusion, and influence. Most of the incidents we see involve a lack of supervision, which allows the seclusion necessary for peer-to-peer abuse or for an adult perpetrator to gain access to a child. It is crucial that we remove all opportunities for seclusion to eliminate one of the components from the formula for abuse.
The paragraphs below outline actions that can be taken to reduce the potential for bathroom abuse.
Establish Specific Bathroom Policies
Each site is unique and specific bathroom policies will vary, possibly even within an individual facility. However, the following things should be consistent without regard to location.
- The first rule in child-serving activities, all children are supervised all of the time, is especially critical during bathroom times
- All bathroom policies and procedures should be:
- clearly and unambiguously stated
- explicitly communicated and reinforced
- religiously monitored and enforced
- regularly reviewed to ensure that they still address the exposures and needs of the specific bathrooms and children to which and whom they apply; the review process should include staff critiques of the existing protocols and identification of any practical or ideological concerns
- Preferred protocol should be to have an adult staff member directly supervise the children from the bathroom doorway; oversight can be maintained without infringing on the personal privacy provided by the individual stall or fixture
- staff, not children, should chose the group going to the bathroom; relationships and interaction between the children should be carefully considered – don’t set the stage for bullying or other peer-on-peer abuse
- the number of children allowed in the bathroom at one time should not exceed the number of stalls or fixtures
- If necessary to ensure the children’s privacy or safety, a staff member could send the children into an otherwise empty bathroom one at a time while supervising the rest of the children from outside the door
- Carefully monitor behavior during group-use times in the restrooms, e.g., changing for swimming or any other similar activity
- younger children’s curiosity and inquisitive nature may result in inappropriate staring and/or touching
- older children’s behavior patterns and pressure from peers may result in inappropriate behavior
- there should be no commingling of adults and children when either are in a state of undress
- either have separate spaces for adults and children
- or restrict access to the common space when children are using it
- Eliminate protocols that allow a child or children to go to the bathroom without direct supervision – they violate the first rule of child-serving activities.
- historically, bathroom time is when most peer- to- peer abuse occurs – youthful predators are very opportunistic – don’t give them an opportunity
- the rule of three is not an acceptable protocol – the children are unsupervised
- sending a responsible older child (including CITs or teen-aged volunteers) to oversee the group is not an acceptable protocol – supervision must be by an adult
Manage the Environment
Guaranteeing an absolutely safe space is impossible – there are too many variables, of which people are the most erratic and unpredictable. However, to the extent possible you should:
- Control building access
- prevent unauthorized entry by minimizing and securing all the possible ways into the building
- identify everyone who enters the building by requiring government-issued ID each time they enter
- record ID information for every day-pass user and guest-of-member, either on or in addition to a waiver document
- keep each individual’s name, address, and telephone number in a permanent record
- include the affiliation of any guests
- the day after their first visit call local day-pass users and guests to thank them for visiting your facility – it’s a good marketing tool, but if the phone number is not valid the address probably isn’t either, so mark your records to deny them future access
- require vendors or meeting attendees to register at the front desk and get a vendor or visitor pass every time they enter the building and to wear it conspicuously
- train all staff to welcome each individual who they do not know, especially one not in workout clothing; this welcome should include politely determining the person’s purpose, verifying the authorization, and guiding him or her as needed (including, if appropriate, out of the building)
- Keep doors locked to all areas that are not actively in use. Locking all service and inactive programming areas limits places for potential abuse to bathrooms and active programming areas, thus reducing exposure
- Monitor bathrooms and restrooms – post sweep sheets that demonstrate a frequent but irregular staff presence (i.e. access by multiple staff members, always less than 30 minutes apart, with no discernable pattern); they are a great deterrent to abuse and to locker room theft
- staff should wander through these areas whenever going anywhere in the facility
- lifeguards should wander through these areas when performing non-scanning duties
- Plan, build, or restructure space, whenever possible, so that:
- access to childcare areas is restricted
- bathrooms and locker rooms have no locking mechanism on the hallway door unless the room is designed for individual or family use
- bathroom and locker room doors, especially family locker rooms or unisex bathrooms, are situated so that access is controlled by a programmable lock or can be monitored by direct staff observation or security cameras
- bathrooms for childcare are located inside the respective childcare rooms
- bathrooms located inside childcare rooms have Dutch doors so that staff can monitor behavior without infringing on the children’s privacy and dignity
- access to bathrooms that are outside of childcare rooms can be limited to the children and supervising staff when children are using them
Enlist Assistance: Everybody Watches
Encourage each person who enters the facility to take responsibility for the safety of the children by following your rules.
- Clearly communicate this expectation to your staff, members, guests and children
- Provide a non-threatening way for members and children to easily report suspicious behaviors or to identify individuals, locations, times, etc. that cause them to feel vulnerable when they are at your facility
Apart from sleeping and napping areas in childcare and camp settings, bathrooms and restrooms are where children are most frequently sexually abused, We must control these spaces and the activity in them if we are to provide a safe environment for the children.