How far will we go to protect our children from danger? In a recent article, Australian journalist, Tracey Spicer, said she prefers that her children don’t sit next to men during unaccompanied flights. Is she right in her levels of protection or has stranger danger gone too far?
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In Spicer’s most recent “Mama Holiday” column, published in the Sydney Morning Herald this week, she opens with the line, “I know it’s sexist but…” before describing the conundrum of encouraging a sense of adventure in her children while also ensuring their safety.
Referring to a case from 2001, where a U.S. family was paid half a million dollars after a 10-year-old girl was molested by a 28-year-old man on a Northwest Airlines flight, Spicer writes of her worry and discomfort as her two children flew unaccompanied on a Virgin flight last year.
“It was a relief to see their smiling faces at the end but I was disappointed I had no choice about where they’d be sitting,” Spicer said.
As we worry about what dangers lurk outside, in the street, in the schoolyard and, now, in the air, too, what does this communicate to our children about what we think about the men in society? Especially when they are shuffled out of their seats away from male passengers.
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In 2012, a Sydney man travelling home from Brisbane on a Virgin flight was sat next to two minors — two boys thought to be aged between 8 and 10 — but before the plane took flight, the man was asked to move.
Thirty-three-year-old fireman, Johnny McGirr, was faced with embarrassment.
“[The flight attendant] said it was the policy and I said, ‘Well, that’s pretty sexist and discriminatory…’
“I got really embarrassed because she didn’t even explain…”
Vilifying men for what other men have done is socially harmful, discriminatory and creates a sense of fear and misunderstanding against men. In addition, men aren’t the only sex that may potentially harm a child. In 2005, British child protection agency, NSPCC, brought attention to how the disbelief in female paedophiles was preventing their detection.
Abused as a child, Colin, whose story was published on the BBC, reported he held back on reporting the sexual abuse committed against him because the perpetrator was his mother.
“I found it hard to even say it was sexual abuse because of the way society views mothers, and quite rightly — 99 per cent are loving, but I was just unlucky to get one that wasn’t.
“That’s what stopped me from getting help for a long time. I couldn’t even acknowledge it myself and there was a worry about being believed and speaking out against my mother. I felt like I was doing something wrong.”
Former flight attendant, Beth Blair, co-owner of The Vacation Gals, said she understands the concern some parents have as she has come across a paedophile during a flight.
“I worked a flight years ago [and while] I never had a problem with adults (male or female) sitting next to children, [on one occasion] there was a paedophile on the plane,” she says.
“The flight wasn’t full so he moved to sit next to some children flying alone and was taking their photos and trying to get their names and addresses.
“I had no idea. Luckily, another passenger was tuned in and told me. We moved him and had the police meet at the plane. Sure enough, he had a record.
“I also had men ask to sit next to underage minors so they can entertain them. My answer was always, ‘That’s nice, but no.’ Not because I assumed [the men] were paedophiles, but because these precious cargo were my responsibility, not a paying passenger’s.”
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James Swanwick of Alpha Male Club says he wouldn’t hesitate about who he’d have his daughter sit next to if the choice was there.
“While it’s easy for me to cry ‘sexism’, if I had a choice between my young daughter sitting next to a man or woman, I’d choose a woman.”
Travel journalist Richard McColl, on the other hand, isn’t so sure.
“As a youngster, I flew to New York, and various other locations, unaccompanied, I suppose upping the probability of being molested if we take Spicer’s reasoning. I can recall that I did indeed sit next to solo male travellers, none of whom asked me to sit on their lap.”
Father of a 2-year-old girl and co-owner of travel company, See Colombia Travel, JL Pastor, says danger is everywhere, so the real takeaway from Spicer’s article is to open the lines of communication with children.
“The only thing I agree 100 per cent with in [Spicer’s article] is to talk to your child about stranger danger: not to scare, but to inform them.
“I mean, danger can be anywhere or can come from anybody and we, as travelling families, should be direct enough to talk to our children about the dangers while travelling, but not to the extent of becoming paranoid.”
How would you feel about your child sitting next to a man on an unaccompanied flight? Let us know in the comments below, or join the conversation on Twitter.