Strange men

SO, little Harry is off to visit his grandparents in another state, and escalating the adventure dramatically is that he’s going by air. Alone.

You, his parents, are assigning his care to the airline staff, in this case Virgin, and you’re comfortable about that. The airline accepts that responsibility and the staff watch over unaccompanied children often.

But are you as happy to entrust little Harry to the strange man who happens to have the seat to him?

Well, strange in the sense that he is not familiar to you or Harry. Or the airline staff for that matter. And for all you know, for all the airline staff know, he may be strange in other ways too. Indeed, for all you know the fellow in the seat next to Harry could be the notorious paedophile Dennis Ferguson.

And as you wait with Harry in the departure lounge you look over the other passengers and you’ll hope he’s not sandwiched between those two over there, or, shudder, next to that greasy oddbod smiling at him. They’re all men, of course.

Virgin Australia and many other airlines have concerns similar to yours, and so they seat unaccompanied children next to women, or at least not next to men. And we know that because we’ve read in this paper about the protest of a NSW fireman asked by Virgin staff to move to another seat because he was sitting next to two unaccompanied boys, with whom he’d swapped seats, by the way, so they could see out the window.

I’ve given the window seat to children once or twice too. Grooming?

The fireman made the point that he and other men are firemen, policemen, teachers and doctors, people who are trustworthy, yet they are assumed also to be paedophiles.

Since this case has become public two other men have been in the media with similar accounts of being asked to move away from unaccompanied children, one a teacher flying Emirates to Sydney and the other a nurse flying Qantas from Wagga Wagga to Sydney. Both made much of having passed working-with-children checks.

Might one day men who have passed a working-with-children check have a badge on their chest to announce that?

Of course such a check establishes only that the man has not been caught yet. And the succession of news reports does suggest that men who work with children present the greatest threat to children.

So, men who are in trusted occupations and men who have a working-with-children clearance shouldn’t have to move if they’re found sitting next to unaccompanied children on a plane. Or on a train or a bus. Or a park bench. Nobody, of course, would object to a cleaner being moved out of reach and sight of a child on a plane, but is a cleaner a bigger risk than a Catholic priest?

And while I’ve read of policemen, teachers, doctors and even a fireman being nabbed for possessing child pornography or paedophilia, these must have been aberrations. I’d have mentioned celebrities, too, were there not a couple before the courts. We could make children safer by giving a special pass to policemen, teachers, doctors and firemen who are fathers, because a father would never be involved in paedophilia. A gold pass for grandfathers.

Discrimination could be avoided if airline staff did the discriminating when they set out the seating plan, and it appears that’s what happens. Issues arise, Qantas says, when late bookings disrupt the appropriate seat allocation behind the scenes.

And, interestingly, after being pinged for discrimination recently British Airways removed the discrimination against men by barring women from sitting with lone children, so that now children have a separate section of the plane.

So what takes precedence? Men’s reluctance to acknowledge the incidence of paedophilia among men or the welfare of the child?

It does seem to me as I read the depressingly regular reports of men facing child pornography and paedophilia charges that there are men who are practising paedophiles and men who are not.

Do you see a man in the departure lounge you’d entrust your child to?

Are children safer when all men are seen as a threat? Has this always been the case?

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