This past weekend I traveled to Philadelphia to host a mommy meet up. Overall, the trip was wonderful. I ate my life away, I was a guest on Boom Philly morning radio and connected with our mom audience at a local restaurant. While coming down from my high of a great meet up, my friend and I decided to explore the city and after a few hours of moving around, I found myself at Barnes & Noble on Walnut Street since they were the only place that had a public restroom.
We enter the bathroom laughing, making our presence known and checking each door to see if it were available. The last and largest stall was locked so I entered the stall next to it and my friend entered the stall next to mine. I placed my bags and purse on the hook and pull down my pants to use the restroom.
In the middle of using the restroom, I looked down and saw a man on all fours watching me from under the bathroom stall. His head was almost completely in my stall as he glared up at me in such a private moment.
In situations like this, I always assumed I would fight. I thought I would kick and swing feverishly, that I would assert myself and stand my ground. Instead, I screamed. I hollered. At the top of my lungs I yelled so loud, I could have awakened an entire neighborhood. The man backed up quickly and told me he was in the wrong place.
In situations like this, I always assumed I would fight. I thought I would kick and swing feverishly, that I would assert myself and stand my ground.
This entire experience felt so displaced. Did this really just happen? My poor friend, completely unaware of why I was screaming, rushed out of the bathroom to make sure I was OK and all I could manage to mumble was, “There’s a man…he’s watching me! There’s a man in the bathroom!”
A police report was filed but the man still got away. There were many things that could have been done differently, especially on behalf of Barnes & Noble but I am also aware that no one is ever truly prepared for such disturbing occurrences. And as a mother, the only thought that continued to circulate my brain was – what if this were a child instead of me?
Here Are The Facts:
According to Rainn.org, “one in 9 girls and one in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult. 82% of all victims under 18 are female. Out of every 1000 sexual assaults, only 310 are reported to the police.“
Children are raped in public bathrooms every year. The most notable happened last year where a 54 year old man raped a young girl under the age of 14 in a public Las Vegas park bathroom. As parents to young children, we accompany them to the restroom or we wait outside while they handle their business inside. This was a wake up call for me that standing outside simply isn’t enough.
Here’s What You Can Do:
-Always accompany your children to the restroom. Do not send them alone, no matter their age.
-Make your presence known when entering the bathroom. Alert anyone as you enter, that you are coming in with a child.
-Check all the stalls. See which stalls are empty and which are occupied. Try to use one that does not have anyone next to it.
-Do not wait outside of the stall if someone is in the next stall. If you are waiting outside of the stall, you cannot see if someone is peeping under the wall into your child’s stall.
-If possible and available, opt out of the public restroom and use the family restroom for added security and protection.
-Do not entrust an older child to accompany a younger child to the restroom. An adult should always be present.
-Trust your gut. If you have an eerie feeling about someone in the restroom, wait until they finish before entering. It is a small space with limited exit options available. It is much better to be safe than sorry.
What Barnes & Noble Could Have Done Differently:
We live in a day and age where most public bathrooms need a code before entering. Why wasn’t this the case here? By having a code placed on their restrooms, the staff is more alert of who is entering and exiting and it helps to keep those who may be entering the restrooms under false pretenses out. In a busy city such as Philly, this should not have happened.
This particular Barnes & Noble had security but when the incident occurred, the security officer was not found in a timely manner. The man in the restroom did not come out for at least 7-8 minutes and he was able to slowly walk downstairs and out the front door. The security officer who was in the store still did not make it to us for an additional 5 minutes or so. That is close to 13 minutes. The store is not that large. What is the purpose of having a security officer present if he is not available.
Their staff could use training on how to handle situations such as this. Distraught, I approached the desk, where very non-nonchalantly the employee told me they kicked the man out. As soon as she said it, she knew it was the wrong thing to say and immediately attempted to backtrack to let me know the manager had been informed of the situation. Mind you, the desk in which she stood was directly in front of the restroom. Many questions arose:
-How often are employees doing bathroom checks?
-Why didn’t anyone see a man enter the women’s restroom?
-How long had he been in there unsupervised?
Once the manager came down to me, she informed me that she would indeed call the police and make a report. She kept her word and called me a few hours later to let me know the report had been made and gave me all the necessary information I needed to follow up. For that, I was grateful.
Even still, as I have returned home, the situation lingers in my mind. No, I was not assaulted but I am a victim of sexual misconduct. I should not fear going into public restrooms. I should not be afraid for my child or any other who may have their rights violated due to faulty store policies or sexual predators. As a mother, this was a lesson to me: Always be aware. No matter if the restroom is only 5 feet away – do not let your children enter alone and check each stall before allowing them to go in.
This simple message can save their lives.