Moral Panics

Fear of perverts in aircraft


Moral Panics Index


Perverts in Aircraft

News Reports 2 : Dec 1-3 2005

Bay of Plenty Times
December 1 2005

Bay fathers afraid to play dad
By Natalie Bridges

Mike Kino looks carefree as he rolls around with his four-year-old son Michael on the grass in Memorial Park - but he's worried someone might accuse him of wrongdoing.

The father of five from Ohauiti says a politically correct obsessed society has contributed to making him more cautious of how he interacts with his children in public.

"I found it hard to change my kids' diapers when they were small - even my own daughter. I shouldn't feel that way but I don't want to be accused of anything. It's only because of society I feel like that. You want to be seen as a good father.

His feelings mirror those of many Kiwi blokes who have been left stunned at the story of Auckland man Mark Worsley.

Mr Worsley was made to switch seats because he was sitting next to an unaccompanied child on a Qantas flight.

The ban by Qantas and Air New Zealand on men sitting next to unaccompanied children is now subject to a dispute resolution process by the Human Rights Commission after four separate complaints in 24 hours.

Mr Kino believes men have been victimised but said the issue was not a clear cut one.

"We're a bit hard done by. You can't just blame a male and say he has more chance of abusing a child. But then again the safety of the child needs to be considered - it's a hard question. The first thing is that the child shouldn't be alone and the second is that, if it's a minor, they should be sat beside the flight attendants."

Although suspicions may by more rife in today's society, Detective Jason Perry, family violence co-ordinator, said the majority of complaints about suspected child abuse were genuine.

"We do receive some vexatious complaints but the majority of them are genuine," he said. "We investigate those and on the basis of evidence they're prosecuted."

But James Gatenby, practice leader at Child Youth and Family in Tauranga, said fathers had lost confidence and understanding about the role they needed to play in their children's lives because of paranoia about accusations of child abuse that have swept through society.

"There's far more awareness now about fathers and stepfathers, about how they interact with their children or stepchildren in public. There is a conscious awareness that there are eyes on them and they can't express themselves as freely as they would possibly like to."

He said that, as a result, fathers were denying their roles and responsibilities and it would take a lot of work to regain lost ground. "When we look into notifications that we receive, dads say 'well we're going to be hands off from now and leave the certain aspects of parenting, such as bathing or toileting to the mothers and grandmothers'.

"I think it takes lot of work to really regain their confidence. The message we are giving to fathers is that it's really important that they are taking those roles on, like being affectionate and being comfortable about showing your emotions towards your children, and doing things like bathing your daughters and taking them to the toilet," Mr Gatenby said.

"In the work we do do there is a gap where children don't have positive role models in their lives, particularly male role models."

Bad memories of an incident similar to Mr Worsley's have resurfaced for Bethlehem fire officer Philip Price over the past few days.

"It was an experience I will never forget. The fact that the airline regards men in this way is totally unacceptable, discriminatory and a case of extreme political correctness," he said.

Mr Price was on an Air New Zealand flight to Christchurch on a winter trip in 2002, seated across the aisle from his wife and two children, aged 14 and 16. Just before take off he was asked by a flight attendant to swap places with his wife because he was sitting next to two unaccompanied children.

"I was absolutely stunned and speechless. I complied without making a fuss but only to avoid embarrassing my wife and, in particular, my two children.

"My wife was so angry and stunned because she felt for me. What offended and hurt me most was the perception by Air New Zealand that because I was a man I was a risk to young children and this was demonstrated quite publicly after all the passengers had been seated."

He urged the airline to review its procedure for seating passengers to avoid the humiliation he went through.

"If the airline is concerned then they need to deal with it so passengers are never put in that situation. They need to deal with it on boarding. I don't think I'd move so easily next time, unless there was an issue of aircraft safety. No-one wants to make a fuss though."

When the Bay of Plenty Times asked Mr Price whether he would mind a male sitting next to his own child on a plane he said: "The thought never even entered my mind. I have never heard of a child molestation on a plane before. You need to have a certain amount of faith in society."

Hans Laven, a Tauranga clinical psychologist said that policies trod on risky ground, initiating a dangerous spiral of discrimination in society.

"It's very dangerous to start discriminating against a class of people on the basis of perceived characteristics of a few. That's why we have laws against it. A policy like that provides children with an image that men are to be feared and have no value."

I don't see how that can help.

"How will it benefit a child to be prevented from an equal opportunity of sharing some communication with a male, which is an important part of childrens' development."

Mr Laven has experience working with child molesters and says the chances of a child being molested on a plane were so remote.

"There is a risk, possibly as great or greater than a man molesting a child on an aeroplane, of a woman on a plane suffering from post-natal depression or a personality disorder that may lead her to feel an urge to harm a child, which unfortunately also occurs."

But Dr Neville Robertson, a community psychologist at the University of Waikato thinks that there are no grounds for discrimination claims over the policy.

"It has been clumsily handled. But this is being portrayed as an infringement of men's rights and I would have to ask that if I'm allocated seat 1F instead of 4E - how has that infringed my rights?

"Discrimination means that you deny someone a right and the right in this case is a comfortable seat on the plane - and that's what they [men] will get. I think reaction to this is disproportionate. People take it personally - it's not a personal attack at all."