Moral Panics

Fear of perverts in aircraft


Moral Panics Index


Perverts in Aircraft

News Reports 2 : Dec 1-3 2005

The Press
December 3 2005

Stance of Air New Zealand makes men into victims

Derision has greeted the Air New Zealand and Qantas policy of separating unaccompanied child passengers and men.

The response is deserved, because the separation is insulting and unnecessary to the point of absurdity.

The airlines are prompted by concern about abuse of minors, but a crowded plane, with attentive cabin crew and cheek-by-jowl passengers, is an unlikely venue for molestation. If the risk is present of inappropriate momentary touching, so is it in a supermarket queue, a church congregation, a bus, a classroom -- in dozens of everyday situations encountered by children. Sensible parents prepare for those situations by telling their children how to cope with the uninvited advance, giving them the confidence to protest forcefully. Few parents would not reinforce that message before they dispatched an unaccompanied child on a flight, and ensure special attention for their child from airline staff.

The companies give the impression of backing away from their duty of care by the drastic means of removing potential abusers from potential victims. Concerns about liability must lie behind this, with the airlines attempting to reduce the likelihood of charges against them. But their concerns are extreme, and are seen as such. The usual close attention cabin staff give to lone child passengers is sufficient to offer a high level of protection from perverts and to satisfy any court that due care was provided.

On all of these grounds, the Qantas-Air New Zealand separation policy is unnecessary, but it is also objectionable because it feeds the hysteria that can so easily be whipped up about child abuse. It assumes that all men, or a substantial proportion of them, are potential abusers, a belief not borne out by statistics or the workings of the communities in which we live. Cases of child abuse by strangers in New Zealand can make spectacular headlines, but it is comparatively rare. It is not inherent in the male psyche; it is the result of severe personality disorder.

To ignore these realities, and assert that most men are potential or actual child abusers, is damaging. It undermines male confidence and disrupts the natural workings of society. That has been seen in the decline of male primary and pre-school teachers and males' fear of being left alone with children. The airlines' ban is another expression of this hysteria-driven discrimination.

It is welcome, therefore, that the Human Rights Commissioner is taking on the issue, although his disposition does not point to a ruling against the airlines. The companies will be more susceptible to public opinion, which, if letters to the editor of The Press are anything to go by, is running strongly against the separation policy; writers are either angry or derisory. Given the dominance of Air New Zealand and Qantas in the region, that is unlikely to be significantly reflected in bookings. But regard, and its associate loyalty, are different. They will be eroded if the policy is persevered with.

Another outcome is possible. Perhaps the level of emotion the issue has engendered prefigures a more vigorous reassertion of the natural male bond with children. That certainly is needed, as New Zealand struggles with fatherless families, fathers unsure of their place, and inadequate role models for boys. This affair will help correct these gender problems because it has captured the public's imagination and emphasised how far anti-male discrimination has gone and how surreptitiously it can be extended.

In fact, the healthy rebalancing of the male's role is taking place on a wide front -- men giving greater credence to their emotions, books on fathering, efforts to get more male teachers into junior schools, the predicament of boys under the microscope.

But this movement needs more support. For instance, there is no sign of the legislative initiatives, supporting things like good fathering, to balance the gains that the women's movement has made. The jibes about political correctness and feminist domination, and the angry rants from maintenance-harassed fathers, need to be transformed into a more effective engagement -- higher quality debate, research, personal commitment and leadership.