Flight risk: Airline policy profiles men as sex offenders

Are you a man? You might be a pedophile - at least according to Virgin Airlines. An upstanding male passenger was asked to move seats on a Virgin flight from Australia recently and was informed it was because of the airline's policy prohibiting men from sitting next to unaccompanied children. Virgin is not alone. Apparently many international airlines, including British Airways, have this policy in effect because according to their reasoning, the "overwhelming majority" of sex offenders are male.

"We're trying to prevent child victimization. We know the overwhelming majority of sex offenders are male, so by removing that situation you're lowering the risk," said John Shehan of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States.

At first I tried to figure out the problem with a man next to a kid on a flight. How do you molest a stranger in public? It seems like the same risk of getting randomly stabbed - should we all be seated four feet apart on flights? And if men can't sit next to kids on flights, should they be banned from sitting next to them at restaurants or passing by them at the mall? Should we put blinders on all men, bind their hands and cover women and children in beekeeper suits? Sarcasm, of course. When I first heard of this story I was confused about what, exactly, was the risk of a man sitting next to a child in a highly regulated environment like a flight. No one has lighters or blades on flights anymore, shall we worry about letting men carry candy? And what is a good pedophile when stripped of his scary white van??

Then I thought maybe the risk is that on overnight flights the cabin gets pitch dark and everyone essentially sleeps together under the literal cover of night. Maybe the thinking of the airline is that a wayward opportunist might take advantage of an unescorted child. That seems a little profiling for a risk that is so minimal it may as well be in the category of catching herpes from the plane toilet seat. This is coming from a person who found herself on a registry for not wanting men taking her daughter to the bathroom in preschool, mind you.

So what is the difference between my saga and the bogus airline policy? Plenty. One, in my potty situation, the men were volunteers. Pedophiles seek opportunity and a school that solicits parent helpers to aid in one-on-one potty duty in a secluded bathroom is an opportunity if I ever saw one. Men don't book international flights so they might get the chance to sit next to a lonely kid.

Two, the nature of wiping a little girl's vagina inherently puts the volunteer preschool man in direct contact with the genitals of a child. The expected physical contact between flight passengers is bumped elbows at worst. Anything involving exposed genitals would be a complete overstep of boundaries, one only taken by true pedophiles.

Also, my child was two. Two-year-olds are just absorbing the world and can't know the difference between a good man at preschool and a bad man during a BBQ. The "good" rotating cast of characters taking down your pants at preschool are fine, but don't trust anyone but mom, dad and the doctor to touch those parts anywhere else? That's too complicated for a toddler. However the expected action of a man on a flight and the same action from a man at a BBQ leaves nothing to interpretation. Sitting next to someone is okay anywhere! You're just sitting! There's no context or motivation to discern between sitting on a flight and sitting at a family party the same way there is difference between touching baby genitals in the potty at preschool and touching genitals in seclusion during a party. Touching genitals can go either way, whereas sitting is always sitting.

My fear really wan't that my kid would get molested at preschool anyway, it was that she would get comfortable with strangers taking down her pants. Remember I assumed the teachers would be taking the kids to the bathroom. The lesson I was hoping to teach was that taking down your pants is a big deal, but what's the lesson for kids who see men being moved away on flights? That men are to be so feared you can't even sit next to them in public? That's insane.

If people are so worried about the risks of their kids on long international flights, there's a lot more risk to consider besides their inflight neighbor being an opportunistic pedophile. What about choking on peanuts or strangling themselves on the oxygen masks? Seriously, there's a higher risk the flight attendant will grab a few beers and quit his job on the spot than someone being so out of their mind they'd molest a strange kid in a crowd while sitting in a seat linked to their credit card. Think, airlines.

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There must be an empty plane to fly with a child! No one is to be trusted!

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