How likely is it that someone would be falsely arrested for soliciting sex in a public restroom?
August 30, 2007 10:21 PM   Subscribe

How likely is it that someone would be falsely arrested for soliciting sex in a public restroom?

Leaving aside the question of whether Sen. Craig is guilty (I think he probably is, mainly because it had already been reported a year ago that he had a predilection for washroom encounters), do innocent people commonly (or even rarely) get set up? Has that happened to anyone here? I have no personal interest in washroom sex. But if I have a layover in Minneapolis, or anywhere else, should I be paranoid about using the restrooms lest my trip get interrupted by an overzealous cop?
posted by mahamandarava to Law & Government (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Probably very very slim. You should be more concerned if that is water or something else on the floor in the public restroom.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:25 PM on August 30, 2007

How wide is your stance?
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:51 PM on August 30, 2007 [5 favorites]

i've never heard of it happening, besides, he pleaded guilty to being a pervert. all of the factual issues of guilt and innocence are merged into the plea. for a u.s. senator, he doesn't seem to understand how the criminal justice system works.
posted by bruce at 11:09 PM on August 30, 2007

As a general rule, do you have conversations with strangers in the bathroom? If not, you probably have nothing to worry about -- and if a stranger starts chatting you up, wouldn't you just murmur something and shrug it off? I certainly wouldn't br striking up a conversation with the guy in the next urinal...
posted by davejay at 11:16 PM on August 30, 2007

This is impossible to answer.

However, can we imagine a situation where a cop - stuck on what has to be one of the least desirable beats in cop history - makes extra-friendly overtures to a naive person who smiles and chats, not realizing that he's now part of a conversation about a possible sexual encounter? And can we imagine that cop - desperate to get the fuck out of that bathroom with an arrest at all costs - sees and hears things in the person's behavior that match the cop's idea of what a person looking for sex would say or do, and then arrests the person accordingly, despite the fact that the person was *not* in fact soliciting for sex?

Yes. We can imagine a situation like that very easily.
posted by mediareport at 11:28 PM on August 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

^This is taking a lot for granted about the cop.

I don't think you have anything to worry about, just don't touch other people feet, linger around wierdly, I dunno don't act 'strangely' in the bathroom. I suppose this requires a definition of strangely.
posted by gavtaylor at 11:38 PM on August 30, 2007

As I understand it, and this I've learned with the recent arrest of Craig (I am by no means an expert) there are certain specific signals given in the "bathroom sex" culture that are somewhat surreptitious in nature, but when repeated leave little to no doubt as to the intent of the seeker.

In Craig's case, not only were the signals given, but they were repeated and followed exactly the way someone experienced in the bathroom sex culture would do.

So, if you are in the habit of making sneaky gestures under the wall separating stalls, without any intent to procure anonymous sex, then might be accidentally mistaken for someone seeking just that, and then arrested. Or maybe you'll just be (pleasantly or unpleasantly) surprised with a come-on.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:43 PM on August 30, 2007

^This is taking a lot for granted about the cop.

If that was directed at my comment, well, yeah. I was creating a scenario that would fit the original question, which is hard to answer otherwise. I'll stand by the claim that it's not hard to imagine that kind of scenario, uncommon as it may be.
posted by mediareport at 11:55 PM on August 30, 2007

I was drinking coffee heavily so that I would stay awake and needed to relieve myself pretty badly. I pulled into a rest area, locked the car doors, and went into the restroom. When I entered I noticed it was unoccupied except for a pair of sneakers visible under the second stall.

As I unzipped at one of the urinals and began to relieve my burning bladder I heard a voice say "Hey, what's up?". I looked around and there was no one else in the restroom. After a moments hesitation, I answered "Not much".

A little time went by and he says, "What ya doing?".

I didn't feel very comfortable talking to someone in a stall but I didn't want to be rude and answered, "Uh...we are heading to San Antonio to visit friends."

"Want to come over?", he says.

At this point I am really uncomfortable and I finish up and scoot over to the sink to wash up. "No I don't think so.", I replied. Wow, was this something else. I had never even had someone next to me with a wide stance before and now I've got someone in the stall asking me over!

As I reached for the paper towels to dry my hands I hear, "Hey man, can I call you back? There's some asshole in the bathroom answering every thing I say."
posted by growabrain at 12:03 AM on August 31, 2007 [101 favorites]

mediareport - Seriously, it IS hard to imagine that actually happening. Like not in a book or bad movie or anything? To have that happen, in real life as we call it, is not believable - it's not that it's uncommon, its flat out unrealistic.
posted by dendrite at 12:15 AM on August 31, 2007

If you're worried about restroom behaviour (and assuming your a guy), just keep your head down, don't make eye contact, don't open your mouth other than to yawn, get in, do the business, and get out.

Having your head up and looking around, or talking/making eye contact are big no-no's if you don't want to solicit attention.
posted by Solomon at 12:47 AM on August 31, 2007

For at least one aspect of the behavior, this Slate article makes it seem hard for anyone to truly happen into this kind of situation accidentally:

Is tapping your foot really code for public sex?

Yes. The signal has been around for decades in the United States and Europe. Generally, one person initiates contact by tapping his foot in a way that's visible beneath the stall divider. If the second person responds with a similar tap, the initiator moves his foot closer to the other person's stall. If the other person makes a similar move, the first will inch closer yet again. The pair usually goes through the whole process a few times, just to confirm that the signals aren't an accident.

posted by Locative at 2:15 AM on August 31, 2007

I had a gay friend who used to go 'cottaging' and he told me that there's a whole unspoken language of looks, signals, gestures, etc. that make it instantly apparent if someone's up for it. Words were usually unnecessary. He would know within seconds if someone had come in just to pee or if they wanted some action.

So I would say it's possible, but unlikely.
posted by essexjan at 2:38 AM on August 31, 2007

I heard from a guy who was thought to be soliciting sex (not by a cop, but by a potential participant) because he was a compulsive foot-tapper and not aware of those signals.
posted by Jeanne at 4:13 AM on August 31, 2007

I tap my feet all the time. I also put my bag in front of the stall because where the hell else am I going to put it? Next to the toilet? I also caught myself leaning forward and stretching yesterday in the bathroom at work (my back was bothering me a little and I was stretching it out). I realized that my hands were probably visible from the next stall. I'm sure I have done this before but I could not say how often or where. You can bet that I will make an effort to not do any of them the next time I am in an airport bathroom.
posted by probablysteve at 4:14 AM on August 31, 2007

There's a notorious book called "the Tearoom Trade" that will probably satisfy your curiosity.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 4:43 AM on August 31, 2007

...or you can read blogs of gay men who do this. I have seen a bunch-- about seeking sex in bathrooms, rest stops, book stores, the gym, bathhouses, you name it pretty much.
posted by sneakin at 5:32 AM on August 31, 2007

mediareport - Seriously, it IS hard to imagine that actually happening

Right. I said it'd be uncommon; I'll change that to extremely rare if you like. But it's not hard to imagine the scenario itself, which is all I was saying.
posted by mediareport at 5:57 AM on August 31, 2007

do innocent people commonly (or even rarely) get set up? Has that happened to anyone here? I have no personal interest in washroom sex. But if I have a layover in Minneapolis, or anywhere else, should I be paranoid about using the restrooms lest my trip get interrupted by an overzealous cop

In a word, no.

Even if you're a compulsive foot-tapper with a wide stance, no. Signals are double-checked by both parties several times.

The other dead giveaway that you're not looking for sex is that you'd actually be using the stall for it's intended purpose.
posted by desuetude at 6:14 AM on August 31, 2007

I'm not totally sure about this, but I think there's something about the cops don't usually do the approaching. I think they mostly let the other guy come to them and then arrest him once he makes clear he's looking for sex. So if you're not actively approaching other men in restrooms, you're ok.
posted by dnash at 6:45 AM on August 31, 2007

As I unzipped at one of the urinals and began to relieve my burning bladder I heard a voice say "Hey, what's up?". I looked around and there was no one else in the restroom. After a moments hesitation, I answered "Not much".

cite your sources.
posted by delmoi at 6:55 AM on August 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

I knew that story sounded familiar...
posted by starman at 6:55 AM on August 31, 2007

In Indianapolis recently, vice cops arrested 95 people over three days for soliciting.;_ylt=Ag9Vb7AfA3i054eJauugYnYE1vAI

I, personally, find it hard to believe that there wasn't a lot of entrapment involved. And, is 'giving signals' a crime, or shouldn't there have to be some commitment to performing an illegal act ?
posted by dkippe at 6:57 AM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

Considering that Male Restroom Etiquette is entirely structured to avoid these kinds of ghastly misunderstandings, odds of a false arrest seem very, very low.
posted by adamrice at 7:30 AM on August 31, 2007

As a gay man, who has cottaged, I find mediareport's scenario perfectly believable.
posted by yesster at 7:31 AM on August 31, 2007

Why on earth is it a crime to invite someone to have sex? I don't get it. If the crime is to have sex in a public place, the cops nail them for intent?
posted by lucia__is__dada at 7:49 AM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

ooh, growabrain, I take my favorite back!
posted by desjardins at 7:50 AM on August 31, 2007 [3 favorites]

FWIW, Craig did plead guilty to disorderly conduct. Not to "being a pervert" as someone wrote upthread. You can think of DC as a catch-all. It is VERY abused in the legal system. A cop can arrest you on DC for next to nothing.

Our system is riddled with false accusations. Cops are forced to use quotas in many jurisdictions which make this worse. Aggressive prosecutors with their eyes on their careers couldnt care less as long as they get more convictions in (even in capital cases). "Tough on crime" politicians' policies trickle down to you and me.

I dont know how anyone can protect themselves from overzealous police. I'm sure its a jurisdiction by jurisdiction thing. Where I live I dont have to worry about such things because victim-producing crime happens. In contrast a conservative suburbs probably has more abuse, especially if its very religious and youre one of the minorities or undesirables.

On top of it, legislation written for one type of crime is very much used for others. The laws designed to catch drug dealers, terrorists, and pedophiles are the same ones that can be abused to catch adults engaging in consensual sex, people smoking pot, people selling sex toys, people assembling for peaceful protest, etc etc etc.

Yes, abuse happens.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:20 AM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

I still don't understand why soliciting sex is against the law. It happens all the time everywhere.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:48 AM on August 31, 2007

Err, what lucia said.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:49 AM on August 31, 2007

In Craig's specific case, Slate re-enacted what happened according to the cop's report. The cop was sitting in the stall, and Craig kept repeatedly looking into the cop's stall for two minutes, close enough that the cop could see his eye color. It seems very unlikely that he was falsely accused.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:40 AM on August 31, 2007

Y'all may be sure, they do entrap. In days gone by (I hope they're gone!), LA used to put it's newest, cutest cops on this duty. They'd stand at a urinal in a place-of-interest, with an erection, and wag at anyone seen looking around. (This was, by far, the more common way of soliciting sex in a washroom).

As for Tearoom Trade: I can't help but wonder if it's the book I read when I was 13/14 years old. Indeed, the book that taught me what I needed to know. God bless the library.

Craig is a hypocrite and a liar (both being rather synonymous for 'republican'). But he didn't do any crime I can see from the situation as described.
posted by Goofyy at 9:51 AM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

(the joke above is so old, I didn't bother to cite the current source)
posted by growabrain at 11:32 AM on August 31, 2007

Growabrain's account aside, I'm a female who was once in the restroom at our office who encountered a similar situation. There were about 10 stalls, and I was the only one there until another woman entered. She used a stall about three doors down, but a few seconds later I heard her ask "Hey, how's it goin'?" I hesitated and then replied "Fine." She then proceeded to chatter away and I realized that she was talking on her cell phone. Color me embarrassed, but on the other hand, what conversation is that important that it can't wait until after you've attended to your toilette?

The whole Craig story was really an eye-opener for me - are men's room pick-ups that common that there is a univeral foot-tapping code? What is it about a bathroom (where one would presume you're only going in there to do one of two things) that makes it an off-road singles' bar?
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:58 PM on August 31, 2007

Oriole and others: you may find the discussion on the blue of interest regarding some of your questions on whether this is entrapment, men's room pickups, etc.
posted by desuetude at 2:30 PM on August 31, 2007

"Intent to commit a lewd act" is such a ridiculous umbrella to hide any number of behaviors under it just doesn't seem like enough in itself to warrant arrest (I'm quoting from the blue post referenced in desuetude's comment, first link).

It really should be either actually committing a lewd act OR actually soliciting a prostitute (or someone posing as one) for sex. Frankly, I don't really have a problem with people committing lewd behavior in the middle of the street, unless I'm trying to walk down it and they are in the way, and I can't see setting up a sting operation for something like that. As long as they don't scare the horses.

I do think Craig wanted to solicit another man for sex in this case, but I think the laws need to be crystal clear about what constitutes solicitation, and the way they are enforced should be the same for a man soliciting a woman for sex as a man soliciting sex from another man.

And really, since I think prostitution should be legalized anyway, we probably shouldn't even get into that discussion.
posted by misha at 3:29 PM on August 31, 2007

You shouldn't be paranoid.

FWIW, speaking as someone who has, in the past, had sex in public restrooms (aka tearooms) and in public parks, generally those who are not interested in these activities have absolutely no idea they are going on. If you're using one of these sorts of facilities and are not participating in sexual activity, you shouldn't worry. If you are, you should know what to look out for and be wary of undercover cops. And if you're uncertain about undercover police activity, try looking here. If Senator Craig had looked there, he would have known not to cruise there.
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:36 PM on August 31, 2007

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