September 23, 2010 By David Calder
I was at a lunch hosted by a firm of lawyers recently. The conversation turned at one point to the UK’s increasingly uncomfortable relationship with young people, children in particular. One of them, a man, asked why all men should be automatically regarded, at least in some people’s eyes, as paedophiles? The number who actually are is tiny. So where has this perception come from?
Another, a woman this time, went on to pose a related question. Why are we so obsessed with “stranger danger”? Well over 90% of child abuse cases, she explained, involved people whom the children knew and trusted. Strangers were hardly ever involved. Shouldn’t we, she asked, be telling our children to run to the nearest stranger when they felt threatened or in danger?
I was reminded of this by a couple of recent incidents, both involving airlines. Take the case of British Airways. It was taken to court recently by a male passenger who’d been asked to change his seat. The flight attendants did so because he would have been next a 12 year old boy who was travelling unaccompanied on a flight to Luxembourg. He accused BA of discrimination.
Air France also made the headlines recently when unions claimed their seating policy, similar to that of BAs, could put children’s safety at risk in the event of an accident. BA at least has confirmed that it has now changed its policy.
The news persuaded a Scots company called Skyscanner.net to carry out a survey on the issue and found that, out of 500 people, more than two thirds would feel insulted if asked to move away from a child.
The overwhelming majority (86%) also said that they would be happy for their own child to sit next to a stranger, if the child was flying unaccompanied. And 40% said they would actually prefer their child to be seated next to an adult in case they needed help in an emergency.
Only 14% said that they didn’t like the idea of their child sitting next to a stranger. However 28% of parents did say they would prefer their child to be seated next to a female rather than a male.
Barry Smith, the company’s co-founder, believes “it’s a very delicate area for airlines and it is important that they strike the right balance. Airlines are obviously responsible for any unaccompanied minors that they carry so must do everything they can to ensure the safety and comfort of that child during the flight.”
He added that this included the potential threat that other passengers may pose.
But that raises the question – why should other passengers been seen as a potential threat in the first place?
Perhaps I’ve too naïve, but I grew up at a time when all adults were presumed to supportive; we were taught to trust them. For most of us in that generation, that trust was well placed. So why has the UK, alone in Europe, changed its attitude so completely – and in such a short time?
Are the lawyers right to throw doubt on the validity of “stranger danger”? The sex abuse scandals of recent years have mainly involved people that children knew – family members, scout leaders and priests. The majority of children who’ve been snatched from the street are not abducted by strangers but by a parent or other relative when a marriage has broken down in acrimonious circumstances.
We need to understand more of what’s happening in our society. We need a debate in which the voices of everyone involved, including children themselves, are heard – not just those who think they know best.
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@Cherry wrote:It is a good article, parents often warn their children about being approached by a stranger but it needs to be said they must tell the parent if ANYONE makes them feel uncomfortable, whoever that person is, even if that person is a family member or friend, teacher, etc.
Excellent advice Cherry.