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Electing to accompany your kids to the restroom at the store
November 6, 2012 - Betsy Bethel
The topic of the day among many parents in the Ohio Valley is not who will be the next president. It's how to keep our kids safe from voyeurs and sexual offenders in restrooms while shopping in our communities.
Discussions in offices, homes and on Facebook today centered on an incident that allegedly occurred in the men's restroom at Cabela's at The Highlands in Triadelphia on Sunday. Ohio County Sheriff's Department deputies arrested Carl Wilczynski, 72, of Mount Pleasant, Pa., on charges of entering without breaking and stalking after alert store employees reported the man staking out the men's restroom and on three or four occasions following "young boys" into the facility. A store employee reportedly entered the restroom and noticed Wilczynksi watching a boy in the mirror, according to an article in today's The Intelligencer and News-Register (see link at right). A second employee told deputies he witnessed Wilczynski looking over a urinal partition and staring down at a boy's genitals.
Many things went through my mind upon first hearing the report — disgust, revulsion, anger (especially considering Wilczynski is an admitted and convicted sex offender). It didn't take long for my brain to settle and stew on this question, however: "Why are these boys going to the restroom by themselves?" Notice, it wasn't just one boy. It happened "three or four" times. Also, these weren't 10- or 11-year-olds. While the ages weren't specified in the report, they were identified as "young boys," which to me means 5- to 7-year-olds. But why weren't the ages specified? Because, from what I understand, the parents weren't the ones who made the report. Cabela's management called the sheriff's department, and store employees reported what they saw. As far as I know, neither the boys nor their parents were questioned. Kudos to Cabela's employees, by the way! Thank God they were on the ball!
What galls me is that the parents, or whoever was with the kids, sent these boys into the men's restroom of a busy retail center by themselves.
Now I have a 6-year-old, and I know what a pain in the patootie it is to be deeply involved in a shopping mission only to hear, "I have to go potty!" It's annoying to have to drop everything and accompany the child to the bathroom — especially when she refused to go before we left the house a half hour ago!
But you do it. In the case of Cabela's, you put down the gun and tear yourself away from the deer urine, and you take the kid to the bathroom. You may not be happy about it, but you do it ... because you know anything can happen. The child could have an accident, get hurt or get leered at by a creepy, dirty old man ... or worse.
As soon as you think "It can't happen here" or "It can't happen to me," be ready with a broom and dustpan. You'll need it to clean up your illusions that have been shattered.
The incident also brings up questions and concerns for parents who want to do the right thing but aren't sure what's acceptable when accompanying a child of the opposite sex.
How old is too old to take a boy into the women's restroom? What if little Janie has to go while she and Daddy are out and about? Then what does Dad do about Janie's older sister who may be too old to go in the men's room but not old enough to be left outside by herself?
This is where the practical value of the family restroom shines. A family restroom is a large single restroom with a toilet, sink, changing table and enough space to fit a stroller. It is great for keeping multiple little ones corralled while Mom or Dad uses the restroom, changes the baby's diaper, etc. They also are great for the situations mentioned above — when opposite-sex parents need to take kids to the restroom. If a girl or boy is too old to go to the opposite sex's restroom, they can go in the family restroom while Mom or Dad either goes in with them or waits outside.
Family restrooms can be found everywhere, and, in fact, Cabela's has one. The Ohio Valley Mall added one in its recent renovations. Tanger Outlets, Kohl's, JC Penney and Target all have them. Look for one the next time you are out. If you know of any others, please post!
Other solutions to the opposite-sex issue are for the parent to yell into the restroom and ask if it's all clear and then send the child in while waiting outside; or, take the child in with you and, if it's a men's room and you have a girl, shield her eyes as you direct her into a stall.
Regardless, it's important for parents to teach children of all ages what to do if someone approaches them in a restroom — or anywhere, for that matter — in a way that makes them uncomfortable. They should know to yell for help, get out of the room as quickly as possible and find you. And you'll be right there to respond immediately and identify the creep.
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