The alleged sexual assault of a teenage girl in a gender neutral secondary school toilet isn’t surprising, says Caroline Farrow. But it should remind our government why new schools guidance is urgently needed

Gender Neutral toilets

Source: Ted Eytan 

A teenage boy has reportedly been arrested and a police investigation launched after four incidents of alleged sexual assault, three of which are said to have taken place in gender-neutral toilets at a school in Essex.

The boy, who is under 16, has been bailed with conditions, and Essex County Council have confirmed that they are working with school leaders and the police “on a safeguarding matter” while inquiries continue.

As this is a live investigation, the police have not been able to disclose any further details, including the name of the school. But this incident demonstrates precisely why parents and women’s groups have been protesting so vociferously over the way in which schools have enthusiastically embraced gender theory.

The anger, especially from Christians, is not just that children are being forced to accept false notions about gender fluidity that stand in direct opposition to their faith, but also that these ideas have the potential to cause real harm.

Almost 90 per cent of reported sexual assaults, harassment and voyeurism happen in unisex facilities

As far back as 2014, a primary school in Newhaven introduced gender-neutral toilets in a bid to “counter transphobia”. Parents were rightly horrified, reporting that their seven-year-old girls didn’t feel comfortable using the same toilets as eleven-year-old boys. It’s hardly surprising; little girls should not be forced to share intimate spaces with boys on the cusp of puberty - and who have probably already viewed porn.

A right to privacy

The ability to access single-sex toilets is a fundamental issue of privacy and dignity for all pupils.

When one of my daughters started school, days after her fourth birthday, she could not always be relied upon to securely close the toilet door. She would have been horrified to have inadvertently exposed herself in front of boys. Likewise, many boys will also feel uncomfortable sharing their private facilities with girls. Mixed facilities transgress the natural boundaries of both sexes.

Puberty and adolescence are times when children feel particularly self-conscious and insecure. Girls will be beginning their periods and need privacy. My own daughters have told me they would be mortified if they were forced to rustle with sanitary wrappings, knowing that there was a boy in the next cubicle who could hear everything!

Proponents of single-sex facilities are held out to be hateful bigots or Christian prudes

It’s no surprise to hear of reports of girls in schools with gender-neutral toilets restricting their liquid intake - potentially risking bladder infections and kidney damage - to avoid having to go to the loo. If the toilets are being colonised by a large group of either sex, this will be off-putting to a member of the opposite sex who wants to use them. Parents at one primary school in Scotland expressed their outrage that, since their school toilets had become mixed-sex and urinals were removed, boys were urinating in the sinks rather than waiting to use the stalls.

Acknowledging the risk

While nobody is claiming that all boys are potential rapists waiting to pounce given the right opportunity, a 2017 study for the National Education Union and Feminista, a UK feminist publication, reported that sexual harassment is highly prevalent in schools and, overwhelmingly, involved boys targeting girls.

58 per cent of girls in mixed-sex schools had witnessed or experienced sexual harassment at school, and data collected by The Sunday Times showed that “almost 90 per cent of reported sexual assaults, harassment and voyeurism in swimming pool and sports-centre changing rooms happen in unisex facilities”. 

Parents and feminists - both religious and secular - are angry, because incidents such as these are entirely foreseeable. Yet schools are persistently failing to safeguard children, treating their wellbeing as collateral damage in the drive to tick the Ofsted box of being seen as welcoming to the LGBT community. Whereas single-sex facilities were once rigorously enforced in schools, with male teachers not daring to venture anywhere near the girls’ toilets, proponents of them are now held out to be hateful bigots or Christian prudes.

A recipe for disaster

Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile phones and the content of the RSE curriculum, today’s generation of children has become sexualised even before they’ve embarked upon puberty. For generations, educators have recognised that putting adolescent boys and girls with raging hormones together in mixed toilets or dormitories is a recipe for disaster. But now, gender ideology has made schools throw common sense - and centuries of Christian wisdom - out of the window.

What school leaders and parents alike must remember is that the Equality Act does allow schools to install single-sex facilities - because sex is also a protected characteristic, alongside gender reassignment. And there can be no doubt that girls are being disproportionately disadvantaged when those spaces are not protected. As recent cases have shown, the risk of sexual violence or harassment in gender-neutral facilities is real, and ensuring the safety of girls who make up half our school population, should be a priority.

Let us hope that the long-awaited government guidance for schools on transgender issues makes this legal position clear.