Sow Rape Culture Hyperbole, Reap Transgender Bathroom Paranoia

People are bombarded with misleading statistics about rape, child abductions, and sex trafficking. Should we blame them for being afraid?



Why not let transgender people use the bathroom of their choice? The problem, many conservatives insist, is that rapists and sexual deviants will take advantage of looser bathroom laws in order to assault little girls and boys. 

That argument strikes me as absurd. But I'm surprised it's not more persuasive among liberals—particularly a certain kind of liberal, the feminist anti-rape activist—who believe we live in an actual rape culture where sexual assault is an everyday occurrence for as many as a quarter of all women. 

On college campuses, the left has defined "rape culture" down to indict not just forcible assault, but nonconsensual touching, harassment, and in some cases, offensive but clearly constitutionally-protected expression. Activists have done this with the explicit goal of convincing people, particularly women, that they live in uniquely perilous times: sexual assault has reached epidemic levels, they say. Consider this ad campaign from the co-creators of The Hunting Ground documentary, which warns incoming female students—in no uncertain terms—that their college memories will include "being raped by someone you thought you could trust." 

These efforts have been underway for years, despite solid evidence that sexual assault is decreasing nationwide, less prevalent on campuses than other places, and not overwhelmingly the work of serial sexual predators. [Related: Junk Science and Campus Rape.] 

Scaring people has consequences. College administrators, with the federal government's backing, have accepted rape panic and used it as a pretext to regulate students' sex and social lives to an extent unprecedented since before the 1960s. 

Which is not to say that stoking unnecessary fears is the exclusive domain of the left. A great many safety panics are caused by the right. Others are more difficult to pin down ideologically, though equally destructive. 

Here are some other things people are afraid of. 

At Reason, Lenore Skenazy documents the incomprehensible public panic over kids playing in parks by themselveswalking to and from school, and waiting in cars. Paranoid moralizers, busybodies, authority figures, and local news reporters have all played a role in drumming up bizarre support for the idea that an unsupervised child is an endangered child. The American public—and in many cases, local law enforcement—have bought into the notion that sociopaths are lurking around every corner, ready to abduct any child left alone for more than a second. 

To say these fears are overblown gives them more credence than they deserve. Streets, parks, and schools have never been safer. Violent crime has plummeted. Most child abductions are caused by someone the child knows—usually a family member, often as the result of a custody dispute—rather than by a stranger. The same authority figures who demand incessant supervision of children grew up with far greater autonomy in far more dangerous times. 

Nor are hundreds of thousands of underage girls being kidnapped by sex traffickers and forced into underground prostitution rings. My colleague Elizabeth Nolan Brown has repeatedly debunked this particular public panic. 

In summary, the American people are constantly bombarded with misleading statistics, gross exaggerations, and outright lies about sexual assault, child safety, child abductions, sex trafficking, sexual predators, and related subjects. Is it really so surprising, then, that a lot of people are suddenly worried about children being sexually assaulted in public restrooms? 

Popehat's Ken White, a Reason contributing editor, states the matter perfectly

I don't find transgender people scary, and I'm not concerned they are out to molest my kids. … 

But here's the thing: in viewing the situation that way, I'm fighting against what our culture is screaming at me to think. 

Our kids are much safer than they've been in generations, but our culture relentlessly demands that we be terrified for their safety — specifically including their safety from "stranger danger." The very media outlets that will spend today suggesting that you're bigoted and ignorant if you worry about "a man in my daughter's bathroom" will tomorrow go back to making money by scaring the living shit out of you about how your daughter is in constant peril from kidnappers and rapists and child molesters and crime, crime, crime. The culture that tells you today that your fear is irrational will tomorrow return to telling you to embrace fear you can't rationalize. This message isn't all law-and-order, either. The leftward-leaning side of the culture telling you today that you're a bigot for fearing rape in a Target bathroom will return tomorrow to telling you you're living in a rape culture and that you ought to be accepting of the stories, insights, and fears of the people who face that culture. In short, having long refused to hold you accountable for your fears, and having stoked them and encouraged you to indulge them, the culture is now abruptly demanding that you justify them logically. That strikes me as unfair. 

Full thing here

It's a terrible shame that transgender people have to suffer discrimination as a result of the public's irrational fear. Supporters of the transgender community ought to urge people to be less bigoted. But they should also persuade people not to be so irrationally fearful about a great many other things. When we sow fear, we reap demagoguery.