Protection from Private Behavior in Public Places

A man allegedly exposes himself to a 12-year old boy in a mall bathroom. Over the years, the NBC10 Investigators have documented case after case of wild sexual behavior in mall bathrooms. If you're a parent shopping with your son, when it's time for him to go to the men's room, what do you do? As a parent how do you talk to your child about stranger danger?

Dr. Barry Zakireh, who runs the adult offender and forensic program of the Joseph J. Peters Institute says, "Stranger Danger rules should apply" when it comes to your children in public restrooms.  He says you should tell your child, "if something is suspicious, just get out of the restroom and let me know."  He also says that some of the more common places where cruising for sex happens are restrooms with heavier traffic, such as stadiums, airports, train stations, and bus stops.  You should "always tell your children not to make eye contact with anyone in the bathroom, focus on what they have to do, and don't loiter."
If your child happens to see inappropriate behavior in the bathroom, Zakireh says the parent should use this as "an opportunity to teach."  He said to ask your child what they saw, and then try to explain to them in an open dialogue about the behavior.
Experts say that it is important to talk openly with your kids.  This means assuring them that you would never be angry if they revealed something that felt scary, confusing, or embarrassing.  Also, make sure your children know they should feel safe telling you anything that someone else said, even if it was a secret, if that secret seems weird or dangerous. 
Part of the conversation you should have with your children should include a talk about awareness.  Awareness means being observant, cautious, and alert, but not afraid.  You can explain this by discussing safety rules.  Safety rules include warnings about potential dangers, while avoiding language that is graphic or frightening.  An open and honest conversation should not instill fear in your child. 
According to the Polly Klaas Foundation, "One of a child’s greatest protections is the ability to say “No” to adults when appropriate. This is very hard for children to do. Help them discover when it’s a good idea to say “No,” then help them practice saying it out loud."
When discussing awareness with your child, be clear that they need to think about specific situations with adults that seem odd.  Being safe means judging actions, not only looks.  According to one Attorney General's Office, certain adult behaviors that children should look out for include: 

  • Adults who ask children for help
  • Adults who pay an unusual amount of attention to a child
  • Adults who touch a child or ask to be touched by a child in areas of the body that would be covered by a bathing suit
  • Adults who ask to take a child's picture.

 Tell your kids to trust their instincts.  If something doesn't feel right, then it is probably wrong.
One great way to avoid running into "cruisy" behavior in a mall bathroom is to use family restrooms.  Many malls and businesses have restrooms where parents of either sex can go in and make sure their son or daughter is safe.

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