Courtesy of the Times.
The majority of alleged sexual attacks at Britain’s public swimming pools and sports centres occur in unisex changing rooms, according to data obtained by The Sunday Times. Nine out of ten changing-room sexual complaints relate to incidents in unisex facilities — although they make up less than half of all provision. Gender-neutral changing is growing as councils seek to cut staff costs and cater to transgender people. But one MP said it was a “magnet” for sex offenders and increased the risk to women and girls.
At least two-thirds of all sex incidents in public pools and leisure centres, whether inside or in the grounds, happen in unisex changing areas. Only a handful occur in single-sex changing rooms, the figures, released under freedom of information (FoI) laws, show. David Davies, MP for Monmouth, said the data showed it would be “wrong and dangerous” for the government to pursue controversial plans for transgender people to “self-identify” as women. Feminists claim that the proposals, which are out for consultation, will turn every female facility into a mixed space, allowing any man to identify as a woman and enter. Campaigners do not suggest that the threat to women comes from trans people, but from men.
“These figures show that women and girls are more vulnerable in mixed changing rooms and that these places are a magnet for sexual offenders,” Davies said. “It simply doesn’t make sense to enable men to have greater access to women’s spaces. The reforms to gender recognition will grant that access.” Trans campaigners have dismissed concerns about women’s safety in gender-neutral spaces, with one prominent trans activist, Paris Lees, saying that “making bathrooms more trans-friendly hasn’t led to any problems”. However, Nicola Williams, the spokeswoman for Fair Play for Women, countered that the new figures “clearly disproved” this claim. Data emerged four days after Darren Johnson, a serial voyeur, was sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment after stalking schoolgirls in the unisex changing area of Putney leisure centre in southwest London. Johnson was caught after two 14-year-olds spotted his smartphone poking through a gap from the adjoining cubicle. When police raided his house, they found 150 files of photos taken at the leisure centre. A second voyeur, Anthony Gomes, was caught in the same unisex changing area a few weeks later.
Johnson was co-founder of the children’s soft play chain Eddie Catz, where he also filmed his staff and customers via peepholes. His was one of two cases of voyeurism in unisex changing rooms to come up for sentence last week alone.
There were 134 complaints of sexual misconduct in sports centre and swimming pool changing rooms last year, councils said in their FoI responses. Of these, 120 related to incidents that took place in unisex changing rooms and 14 to incidents in single-sex changing rooms. As well as voyeurism, offences recorded in unisex facilities included harassment, sexual assault and rape. In 46 more cases, councils said, sex incidents were reported in other parts of the premises, such as in or beside the pool, in sports halls, corridors or car parks or an area of the building they could not specify. Some of those not specified could also have been in changing rooms. Not all incidents were reported to police or resulted in prosecutions.