We’re All Suspects

Ignore just for a moment that this story was released for political gain, and focus on the content:


A Qantas spokesman confirmed the Australian airline, which operates domestic flights in New Zealand, does not allow unaccompanied children to sit next to men. The spokesman said the airline believed it was what customers wanted.
“Airlines are temporary guardians of unaccompanied minors so we have preferred seating for them.”


Because, of course, I (being a representative of men) am a violent predator who must be controlled and observed at all times. What the fuck!? This makes me sick to my stomach. It also causes me to question my natural behaviour, such as smiling and talking to my toddler son’s friends. I mean, should I not keep my distance in case I make their parents uncomfortable?

How about, just for impact, we rewrite that passage:


A Qantas spokesman confirmed the Australian airline, which operates domestic flights in New Zealand, does not allow coloured families to sit next to whites. The spokesman said the airline believed it was what customers wanted.


Update: there’s an interesting discussion on this whole issue over at MetaFilter, where I posted a link to the original article.

Join the Conversation


  1. It is an interesting one for sure.
    I wonder what the odds are for child molestation with regards to women vs men.
    If the numbers suggest there is a far greater chance of it occuring at a mans hand it kind of makes sense.
    The article mentions how the priority seating tries to keep the unaccompanied children close to the crew area and preferably next to an empty seat.
    But if you’re dealing with the numbers game I think I would happily change seats just so they get better odds of unharmed children.
    Of course imagine the embarassment they would suffer if they replaced me with Mrs Betsy Paedophiliac Nutter.

  2. Eh WTF Griff!? So you condone treating everyone as a guilty dirty pervert just because they are male? Same goes for Arabs and blacks then?

    If you want to play the numbers game, exactly how many children have been molested on a plane?

  3. I don’t see it as being treated as a pervert. More eliminating the risk.
    Its sad that they feel they have to do things like this and says something about our society.
    I guess a better way of managing it would of course to do it at time of checking everyone in.
    Not after all have been seated and then rubbing someones face in it. That was a bit foolish as it now has bought up this whole discussion.

  4. So how far do you go in eliminating the risk then Griff? Separate areas of the playground for dads and other children? Compulsory background checks before you can be a kiddies sports coach?

    I think you might find that segregated buses for men and children might start touching a few nerves. It’s a very, very fine line you’re walking here dude.

  5. Fine.
    Stuff the kids.
    Best look after grown mens feelings over the safety of small children.

    Air Transport is quite a secure controllable area compared to buses and playgrounds.

    Maybe customs officers should stop double checking people who fit the typical drug trafficing profile.
    I mean someones feelings might get hurt. Better to have a slightly higher drug import rate eh?

  6. Fine.
    Stuff the kids.
    Best look after grown mens feelings over the safety of small children.

    Air Transport is quite a secure controllable area compared to buses and playgrounds.

    Maybe customs officers should stop double checking people who fit the typical drug trafficing profile.
    I mean someones feelings might get hurt. Better to have a slightly higher drug import rate eh?

  7. It’s a fundamental ethical question. There’s no correct answer, but in my case I’m prepared to risk the 0.00001% chance that my son gets molested (fucking horrible thought that it is), rather than remove small freedoms from 100% of people. Society will always have scumbags, but you have to believe that me and you and that dude over there are good guys, and we’ll all do our best to educate our kids and recognise the scumbags for what they are (and let the justice system deal with it).

    Otherwise our society is fucked either way. We start going all George Bush and nuking the buggery out of anyone that even looks like a pedophile (which is you and me apparently).

  8. Society is somewhat self-correcting. Witness the prosecuted paedophiles who can’t return to normal society because they keep getting ‘outted’ by their neighbours.

    Vigilante justice some would say, stopping people who have ‘done their time’ from reintegrating into society some would say.

    As the parent of a 2 year old, I say: fuck’em. Done their time they may have but I can’t imagine that’s much comfort for their victims.

  9. Absolutely. As much as my prior comments sound namby-pamby, don’t get me wrong: anyone convicted as a paedophile can have their balls chopped off (slowly) as far as I’m concerned.

    The problem I have is with treating all males as paedophiles by default.

  10. Personally, when I was a little girl, if I had to sit by a STRANGE (strange being the key factor here) adult, a woman would have felt less threatening than a man.
    I think the rule is for the comfort, more than the safety, of the child concerned. Realistically it is unlikely that any molestation will occur during a flight for obvious reasons… but that doesn’t mean
    a child won’t find a strange man less comfortable to sit by than a woman.. It’s the mother thing.. it’s basic animal instinct. So I think you have taken the issue in the wrong way.
    And just as an aside… Hell yes you should be required to submit to a background check before becoming a “kiddy coach”. What are you thinking? You’d let a complete stranger have
    the care of your young child without checking them out first? Remember we’re not talking friends and aquaintances here… we’re talking strangers. And yes, strange men are
    more threatening than strange women. That’s just how it is, politically correct or not.

  11. As someone who works with children, and has had background checks as a result of that, I think that you need to keep that in perspective. Yes I fully agree that childcare workers and teachers should have background checks. Personally, I would extend this to owners of childcare centres, baby sitters, and people who work in schools in support staff capacity. They end up just as trusted and in positions of authority as teachers do.

    However, you end up having to call a limit somewhere. The vast majority of coaches in primary level are parents, in secondary it is a lot more teacher based. Without these coaches, schools could not offer extra-curricular sports to students. To most people, if you said “Thanks for offering to help out Cindy’s netball team, but before you can start you need to go away and wait three months for your police check to come back” they might reconsider their offer. Certainly if some totally random person appeared off the street, and said “I like little kids” you would want to check them out. But what are you going to do – ring the police everytime your child is invited to a friend’s house to play – you don’t know the parents.

    This whole discussion seems to be forgetting the fact that stranger danger is a bit of a decoy. The vast majority of all abuse is by members of the immediate or close extended family. If you really want to protect your child from risk, you should be looking at your/their cousins/ aunts & uncles, and yourselves as parents. These are the big abusers in our society. Are you going to stop fathers / mothers from sitting next to their own children on planes?

  12. Wow, lots of opinions here. I have to say that I find a little agreement with all of the statements made. The one that really had me thinking though is from Emily. I guess I never thought about children being more comfortable with women. Now does that apply to boys as well as girls? I do not have the answer, but I think it may be different for each. As a small boy, I do not remember being any more comfortable with any particular gender of stranger. But that is me and my fading memory.

    While Emily’s comment has me thinking, I do not fully agree that we should or need to get into the comfort of the passenger too much, whether child or not. Where does it stop? Can I say that I do not want to be seated next to an overweight person because I do not feel comfortable? We’ve already delved into the racial implications…

    Maybe it has to do with the parents raising children correctly and not to fear men. I think that is one of the major points in this whole issue. Making generalizations is very EASY (and lazy) but extremely dangerous. It may be more difficult to teach a child to trust most people and be cautious of others based on certain criteria (what criteria is another debate entirely), but it should be done. Singling out ~50% of the population is a weak and uninformed method with far reaching implications on the future development of the children in the world.

  13. Airplanes are such a gruesome exercise in forced sociality. God, I wish someone could have moved the racist f#$ who sat behind me on a long-haul flight from the US to NZ, expounding his highly dodgy views on the various failings of Maori to the hapless American tourist next to him. He made me embarrassed to be a New Zealander and it took me days to stop hearing his sneering, self-gratified voice in my head. I felt abused. On the other hand, I’m a grown-up, and the airline is not in loco parentis when I travel by myself — which is the nub of this story, no?

    Like Ben, I was kind of horrified by the original story. Mostly just because the guy who was asked to move was a parent, dammit, and there was no indication that the woman who took over his spot had any kind of kid-jedi training at all. I mean, that just seems dumb. And it puts women back in the position of being assumed to be kid experts, thus simultaneously ptooey-ing on all the advances we’ve made to be treated as something other than wives and mothers, AND on the kid skills of all the awesome dads/uncles/brothers out there, like Ben and Griff and Stu.

    And you’re right about the dangers of hiking the level of suspicion to a global degree. See this related anecdote on Salon, which seems to speak to what Ben is getting at (you have to view an ad to read the piece but it’s worth it):


    All that said, I hew more to Griff’s line of thinking than Ben’s, on the grounds that actual harm to a child’s body outweighs inferred harm to an adult’s sense of self. Although, duh, you’d think that they could sort it out silently at check-in, thus avoiding the awkward “Sir? Yes you, the possible pedophile in seat 25A? Would you mind coming with me?”

    Plus, from the airline’s point of view, it’s a simple actuarial calculation. Assume that you risk being sued for allowing a child in your care to be drastically interfered with en route (and that would be quite an accomplishment on your average domestic flight in NZ, but let’s say it’s possible: http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/ma/presspage/Aug2005/Jahagirdar-Deepak-sentencing.htm). Then do the numbers about how best to seat a child to reduce that risk (bearing in mind Alex’s point above about the low-ish odds of stranger danger anyway). You’d still come up with something like Air NZ’s policy. You’d also try to seat unaccompanied children next to nuns or old ladies. (Er, but not priests – sorry guys).

    Of course then the parents might get disgruntled about the airline exposing their kids to hard-core religiosity, or old-fashioned parenting practices… who knows which is worse??

    I dunno. It’s definitely in line with a wider trend towards (over)protection of children, with which we can sympathise while generally deploring it for the way it trammels kids’ own spirits and instincts. http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2005/06/02/Louv/index_np.html?x And it’s not just men who are targeted, either — check out this case in New York: http://blog.stayfreemagazine.org/2005/10/a_nation_of_ped.html

    In any case, I’d gladly hear policy ideas that solve the problem at hand without demonizing every passenger with a penis 🙂

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