Rockwall Mayor’s Message: Open letter to citizens about restroom ordinance

Mayor Jim Pruitt

(ROCKWALL, TX – May 11, 2016) First, I do not know why we have to have this conversation about the use of public restrooms.  We have never had a law against this, nor needed one, because common sense has prevailed and folks have used the appropriate facilities.  Unfortunately, however, we have been thrust in a position of discussing this because several businesses and governmental entities have decided to create policies encouraging men unfettered access to women’s restrooms/changing rooms and vice versa.  Because of these policies, I chose to propose a new ordinance which would limit a person’s access into a bathroom that didn’t match their biological sex. Punishment would be limited to a fine only.  I included many necessary exceptions into the ordinance for maintenance, medical assistance, parents and authorized caregivers.

Certain individuals are treating my concern about this issue as a discriminatory and hateful response.  I don’t pretend to understand the transgender issues, but my response is not about them and it is certainly not intended to be hateful.  This is purely a security issue to me.  These businesses are allowing men unrestricted access to a women’s restroom or changing room based solely on their REPRESENTATION that they are “more comfortable” using that opposite sex’s facility.  I believe that sexual predators will use this lax policy as an opportunity to come into contact with women and children in these isolated and heretofore private environments.

I have been a criminal court judge and practiced criminal law as both a prosecutor and defense lawyer for over 30 years.   I have seen many cases involving sexual predators in that time and cases where these predators look for opportunities to abuse children. The 2014 statistics of Children’s Advocacy Centers reflect that among the over 315,000 children served by Children’s Advocacy Centers around the country, 205,438 children reported sexual abuse. I have heard another statistic quoted that 90% of the children are abused by a person known to them.  I have no reason to question this statistic, but it underlines the premise that 10% of sexual offenses are committed against a child by a complete stranger.  That means that over 20,000 children were abused by strangers in 2014.  That is a significant but seemingly overlooked statistic.  These sexual predators exist in every zip code in the United States, including Rockwall County.  These predators are constantly looking for opportunities to come into contact with a child or vulnerable victim.  When we allow a man to go into a women’s restroom/changing room – unchallenged because of a business policy – we potentially give a predator yet another ridiculous and dangerous opportunity.  These predators quietly convince children to do things they shouldn’t (and not to tell) or they silently record them in a vulnerable or private state.  In the past, a person would be on alert if they saw a man in the restroom and complain or raise a red flag.  Now, if someone believes that a man is in the restroom for a nefarious reason, the business or governmental entity can’t even really ask them to leave because of their policies.

I will not feel comfortable sending my 9-year-old daughter into a public restroom if there is the possibility that a man may be in the restroom or can enter into that restroom unchallenged.  These kids don’t have a choice, when they have to go they have to go.  As a man I have two choices, I can take my daughter into the men’s restroom which I find unacceptable for a multitude of reasons or I can go into the women’s restroom and check it out to see if there are men present before my daughter accesses the restroom while waiting at the door to prevent entry by other men.  I really think women will be alarmed if they are in the restroom and I enter to check it out.

I have heard that I am calling transgenders sexual predators.  I have said nothing of the sort and have indeed adamantly asserted that my concerns don’t revolve around transgenders at all.  I have always said it was a security issue.

I have heard stories that I am being hyper-sensitive to this issue – that predators don’t assault or violate people in the restroom.  That is just a dangerous and inaccurate assumption.  Just last week, a man took pictures of a young woman in a Target changing room where he normally wouldn’t have been welcome.  I have heard the argument that there are already laws against sexual predators – but those are only after the suspect has committed a crime!

I have heard another argument that the ordinance as written is unenforceable because police officers won’t be at the door of the bathroom.  But all laws are unenforceable if this is the standard.  People only get in trouble if they are caught or there is some evidence that they committed the crime.  Police officers aren’t everywhere – they are called when needed.  I do not believe that anyone is going to call the police or make an issue if they are not scared of another.  The people who spoke against the ordinance talked about how transgenders look like the opposite sex.  That they would cause alarm by going into the bathroom of their own sex because they truly look like someone of the opposite sex.  Then why would anyone complain; why would anyone call the police?  If a man who looks like a man is in the women’s restroom, however, someone should be concerned and complain to the management.  For the safety of the patrons of that business and their children, businesses should not encourage people to ignore that man or become desensitized to his presence.

I have heard that this would be an unwelcome governmental intrusion into the private affairs of the private sector – that the government should never control private actions.  I must admit, I am also very conservative in that vein.  I believe that we should limit government intrusion in our lives.  Every law on the books, however, is intended to regulate actions and thereby protect others.  Cities across the nation regulate smoking in private establishments, they regulate how long businesses can serve alcohol, they regulate what percentage of sales can be food versus alcohol sales, they regulate how businesses handle and prepare foods, etc.

I have heard that enforcement of this ordinance would require undue police resources.  But it would take no more resources than are used now when some concerned citizen might call about a suspicious person lurking at a public restroom.  In addition, officers have the discretion on whether or not to issue a ticket even when they do become involved in a situation.  If the officer believes that no danger exists because of a person’s choice to use one bathroom or another, I would hope that they would not issue a ticket.

Ordinances are created when communities want to discourage certain behaviors – it is commonly called “deterrence”.  This ordinance is about deterring child predators or others who would use these policies as an opportunity to be voyeurs, harassers, or molesters.  Based on the number of people that I have heard from over the last two weeks, this community wants to discourage men from going into women’s restrooms/dressing rooms and vice versa.  If this ordinance saves one child or woman from being molested because a concerned citizen reported a predator lurking in the restroom, then our efforts are life-changing for that child or woman.

This is about nothing more than the safety of our community, and we have a duty to do everything we can to keep our community safe without regard to whether a certain business objects.  I have not heard one suggestion from any of the businesses that have enacted these policies as to how they are going to protect the women and children using these facilities in the future. Rapists, voyeurs, and pedophiles will have free access to women and children in what used to be the safety of their own restrooms and locker rooms.  We must be proactive in addressing this issue and not just reactive after the fact, when it is too late.

Where does this nonsense end? We have just recently seen the policies at the Fort Worth Independent School District change to allow just what this ordinance would prevent.  I personally will not allow my child to go to a school where boys and girls shower and dress together.  I have a choice in not sending my child to a public school who allows this, but what of the parents who financially cannot make this decision and are forced to compromise their moral convictions for the sake of a school district’s federal funding dollars?

A potential and possibly good solution to this problem is to require these businesses or governmental entities to have additional unisex restrooms or changing rooms that have a lock on the door.  Businesses complain that this will require additional money spent on their part.  Yet, they are the ones who started this debate.  They should be required to participate in the solution.  If we are not going to reverse these policies through an ordinance, we need to make changes by amending the building code for all new construction or major remodeling which will provide for individual restrooms and shower facilities.  I don’t believe that this is asking too much of anyone.  It solves the problem touted by transgenders while keeping the rest of us safe.  That is our job as a city – to keep people safe as much as we are able.  It is a job I take very seriously as a mayor, as a parent, and as a citizen of Rockwall.  Yes, I am dismayed that we are having this debate, but I will not back down from these responsibilities no matter how many people travel to Rockwall to demonstrate.  I think we have a problem, and I suggest that we come together to find a solution.  But let’s not just bury our head in a heap of political correctness.  I suggest that we remember the slogan from this year’s National Day of Prayer:

“Wake Up America”.

 Submitted by Rockwall Mayor Jim Pruitt.

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