We need to talk about perverts. I know we don’t want to – even uttering the word seems somehow rude, as if thinking about them is somehow making us party to their depraved behaviour. But unless we do, women will never be safe.
There are some who would like to pretend these men (they are almost always men) don’t exist, or are a figment of women’s imaginations. But they aren’t.
Last week I looked into the push for gender-neutral changing rooms for a piece in The Daily Mail and it was impossible to ignore the many stories about sick people who are taking advantage of these changes.
Of course, this is what women have always known and feared. My first experience of a sexual deviant was the flasher who used to appear near my school netball courts. I imagine most women have had similar experiences – of leerers, exposers, touchers, covert film-makers who will leap at any chance to be near women and children.
But dare speak up against the policy of gender-neutral and you risk being called a bigot and a transphobe. So I will say this loudly for the people already muttering ‘Terf! Bigot! Whore!’ (I see you): The reason women are speaking up against this isn’t because of trans people but because of predatory men.
Google ‘changing room’ and ‘pervert’ and you’ll see what I mean. In 2018 a Freedom of Information request found that out of 134 reports of sexual assault in changing rooms over the two-year period from 2017 to 2018, 120 of them took place in gender-neutral facilities.
Or have a look at the stories from the degenerate coalface, like the policeman who filmed naked children in swimming pool changing rooms. Or the St Albans father who filmed hundreds of naked women in changing rooms. One man even had a spy camera put on his keys. These awful violations are compounded by the fact that films often end up online to be gawped at by others.
When one man, Richard Schickhofer, was being tried for filming naked youngsters as they changed at a leisure centre in Glenrothes in Scotland in 2016 (caught by a clever 15-year-old girl who saw there was a phone in a shoe which he’d pushed through into her changing room) he blamed the design of the changing rooms for allowing him to carry out the secret filming.
In a twisted way he has a point – these flimsy cubicles are often deliberately designed with gaps at the top and bottom of the door to allow access for the emergency services. The trend for gender-neutral, which is gaining popularity in clothing stores, restaurants, university accommodation and theatres, only makes it easier for men like Schickhofer to carry out their crimes.
And these stories just the tip of the iceberg – these are the blokes who hung around long enough to get caught. After I posted my research, several women got in touch. One said she complained about a man actually grabbing her leg through the cubicle gap but wasn’t believed. By the time someone listened to her, the guy had got dressed and escaped. Another having spotted a camera was told, ‘that’s never happened before’.
But it has happened again and again and again.
Astonishingly the push for gender-neutral is even reaching our schools. Some people genuinely think there is nothing wrong with 18-year-old adolescents boys sharing toilets with 11-year-old girls. Again, let’s be clear here: there is nothing inclusive about making girls and young women feel uncomfortable in their own toilets. Legally, under the 2010 Equality Act, women are entitled to safe, single-sex spaces but are being denied the chance to have them.
So, instead, woman after woman told me they are privately boycotting the gyms and the shops which can’t guarantee them safety. These private anecdotes were backed up by a recent Sex Matters survey which found women were simply ‘self-excluding’ rather than have to share changing facilities and toilets. The same survey found that an overwhelming 98% of respondents agreed with the statement, ‘changing, showering and using the toilet are things that happen in private. Most people don’t want to do any of those things in front of anyone, even people we know, let alone an unknown member of the opposite sex.’
This is a scandal which is being allowed to happen right under our noses. The depressing thing is, it isn’t just being ignored but that the victims of this strategy are being accused of being bigots for daring to talk about it.
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