Food For Thought #15: Paedophilia: Fact, Fiction and Airline Policy


Initially, I became ‘pretty cross’ after reading the article below (abridged) and considered it well and truly worthy of a Rant.  On reflection and a bit of a look at the evidential material related to paedophilia I thought is was more appropriate to consider the issue as ‘Food For Thought”.  Particularly after considering Mr McGirr’s comment:  “(The attitude of the airline) is ‘we respect you but as soon as you board a Virgin airline you are a potential paedophile’, and that strips away all the good that any male does regardless of his standing in society, his profession or his moral attitudes,”

Virgin Australia has been accused of treating male passengers like paedophiles after it made a man swap seats because he was beside two unaccompanied minorsSydney fireman Johnny McGirr, flying home from Brisbane in April was seated next to two boys he estimated to be between 8 and 10 years old.  Assigned the window seat, he swapped so that the boys could look out the window.

A flight attendant approached him just as passengers were asked to put on their seatbelts, requesting he move.  When he asked why,McGirre was told, “Well you can’t sit next to two unaccompanied minors.”  “She said it was the policy and I said, ‘Well, that’s pretty sexist and discriminatory.  You can’t just say because I’m a man I can’t sit there,’ and she just apologised and said that was the policy.

“By this stage everyone around me had started looking.”

Mr McGirr said the attendant then asked a fellow female passenger, “Can you please sit in this seat because he is not allowed to sit next to minors.”

“After that I got really embarrassed because she didn’t even explain.  I just got up and shook my head a little, trying to get some dignity out of the situation,” he said.  “And that was it, I pretty much sat through the flight getting angrier.”

Mr McGirr pointed out that he works as a fireman in Newtown in Sydney and was trusted in his job to look out for the welfare of children.

“(The attitude of the airline) is ‘we respect you but as soon as you board a Virgin airline you are a potential paedophile’, and that strips away all the good that any male does regardless of his standing in society, his profession or his moral attitudes,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Australia confirmed the policy and said while they didn’t want to offend male passengers, their priority was the safety of children.  “In our experience, most guests thoroughly understand that the welfare of the child is our priority,” she said.  The spokeswoman said staff usually tried to keep the seat empty but when that was not possible a woman was seated next to the child.

“Virgin Australia takes the safety of all guests very seriously and in the case of unaccompanied minors, we take additional steps to ensure their flight is safe and trouble free.

Mr McGirr, who wrote to Virgin to complain, said the policy was flawed.  “(It’s) blatant discrimination that just because I’m a male I can’t sit there,” he said.

“…they apologised that it happened on the flight and said it shouldn’t have, but my issue is not with the mistakes made, my issue is with the policy in general.

“The majority of sexual assaults are (also) committed by men, does that mean that we can’t sit next to women?  Should we just have a seat by ourselves and that way women and children will be protected?”

Mr McGirr said he understood the children were vulnerable when not with an adult but fears about crimes committed by a small minority of people should not rule society.

Mr McGirr said Virgin should either allocate a chaperone for children to sit with them for the entire flight, have staff do regular checks on the children to see if they were all right or ask parents to purchase the seat that is vacant so it is always left empty.”  [Source: Sydney Morning Herald, August 10, 2012]

I understand that the same has happened on a Qantas Flight. “Nurse ‘Humiliated’ By Qantas Policy” [SMH, August 13].  One wonders how many more people have been unnecessarily embarrassed in the similar circumstances.

So the first thought after reading about Mr McGirr and getting really angry at the totally inept way that the issue was handled was this:

And that goes for Qantas too!

 And then I went a-digging to get a half decent overview of the issue of paedophilia in general in terms of who, what, where, when.  In that search I discovered this illuminating little graphic.

It’s part of the Australian Institute of Criminology publications ‘Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice’, No 429 (September, 2011) entitled ‘Misperceptions about Child Sex Offenders.  The publication discusses five misperceptions about child sex offenders.  The relevant one to this commentary is Misperception Number 2: Child sex offenders target strangers.

Their quote, not mine:  “Although parents often fear that strangers will abuse their children, it has been well-documented that most child sex offenders are known to their victims.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics data used by the Institute indicates that, of those victimised sexually before 15 years old, 11.1% were victimised by a stranger. That’s 11.1%.  So that means that some 88.9% of those victimised sexually, the crime was perpetrated by someone who was not a stranger and they were family, a family friend, acquaintances, neighbours, or some other known person!

Teasing out the data it indicates that some 45.4% of these offences are committed by family (father, stepfather, other male relative, mother, stepmother or other female relative).  Some 47.2% of these offences are committed by people known to the family (family friend, acquaintance/neighbour or other known person).

So it would seem then that Virgin airline’s policy (and apparently Qantas’ as well) is based on the remote possibility that in the allocation of seating, across a huge number of flights per day, a paedophile (not known to child passengers) will be seated next to an unaccompanied child/ren, in a crowded aircraft, where people (including attendants) prowl up and down the aisles continuously, and surrounded by other passengers.  They will then attempt to sexually assault the unaccompanied child.  Is that right?

I may not be a statistician but the chances of such a scenario happening, I’d suggest, would be extremely remote. No better than winning Lotto perhaps?

So hypothetically, let’s turn the scenario around  Let’s have a policy where unaccompanied children, and children with accompanying adults are placed in a special section of the aircraft, isolated from other passengers.  Incidentally I’d agree 100% with such a policy for quiet travel and peace of mind!  See The Rant #10.

Such an isolationist policy would put paid to any chance of a paedophile getting close to the children wouldn’t it?  Well no it wouldn’t given the numbers!  Since 45.4% of child sexual offences are committed by family, there would be more likelihood of a paedophile being present in that group than in the rest of the aircraft under the current policy.

I suspect you would be right in concluding that the Virgin policy was derived based on unfounded rantings of the fearful, hate-mongers and paranoics than on any empirical evidence available.  I sincerely hope Virgin and Qantas don’t operate their aircraft on the same basis!

McGirr’s comment about ‘. . . . . .stripping away all the good that any male does regardless of his standing in society . . . . .’ is pretty much on the mark.  The pushing of the misperceptions about the sexual abuse of children is creating an ugly climate in society where assumptions and accusations (and it appears policies) are made with little regard to fact, and fed by those lacking any understanding of those facts and little understanding that the real threat lies much closer to home.  Or is it that they don’t wish to acknowledge the reality because it is so much easier to vilify and persecute those outside the family and circle of friends and acquaintances?  Perhaps it’s more comfortable not to see the obvious than to identify and deal with it?

While the ‘stranger danger’ is an issue in paedophilia, it’s not the main issue.  That’s far more closer to your home, and much more personal.  And just what are we doing about that?  Is that why it appears so difficult to deal with paedophilia in the Church – because it’s so close to home?  Now that really is food for thought . . . . . . . .!

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About deknarf

Australian born and bred who has spent most of his working life in R&D and IP management with earlier forays in the newspaper industry and martial arts. Fortunate enough to be living in one of the best countries in the World, even though I might get grumpy with it from time to time.
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2 Responses to Food For Thought #15: Paedophilia: Fact, Fiction and Airline Policy

  1. Stephen says:

    Hmm. After reading your article it occurs to me that Virgin, Qantas, et al could have used the same set of statistics they seem to have based the policies you mention in your article on to justify policies of the diametric opposite sort: namely, ones where they separate ACCOMPANIED children during the flight from the parents, guardians, and other family members travelling with them–on the basis that since parents and other family are statistically more likely to abuse children than strangers, ergo no parent should be allowed to sit next to (or indeed be allowed anywhere near) their children during the flight.

    Such a policy would, of course, be absurd and discriminatory, but no more so than the ones they actually implemented. The big difference would have been that implementing the hypothetical one would have outraged more people sooner.

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    • deknarf says:

      Stephen, thanks for your comments. Indeed they could have. And as you say the outrage would have been vociferous, incredibly indignant and very palpable.
      Mind you, given my annoying experiences with brat children on aircraft, I’d be a strong supporter of isolation of children & parents from other passengers. I don’t see that policy ever happening either. :-/
      Based on the stats, no policy at all would have been an appropriate outcome. And along with proper vigilance from cabin crew the chances of any abuse by a passenger unknown to the unaccompanied child/children would have been miniscule (but I don’t think that’s a statistical term).

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