Friday, December 02, 2005

Profiling for Pedophiles

About a year ago, Mark Worsley got on a Quantas flight in New Zealand. He was traveling with his two year old twin sons. He got on the plane and took his assigned seat next to an eight year old boy. Shortly after takeoff from Christchurch the flight attendant approached him and told him he needed to change seats with the woman two rows ahead of him. When he asked why he needed to change seats the flight attendant told him the airline has a policy of not seating male passengers next to unaccompanied children. Mr. Worsley obliged the flight attendant, but as he sat in his new seat and thought about the situation, he started to realize that the airline had profiled him as a pedophile. The more Mr. Worsley thought about it, the angrier he got. He didn't want to cause a scene on the flight because he was aware you just can't do that in a post 9/11 world. But since the incident Mr. Worsley has been very vocal about the fact he felt he was discriminated against and he has contacted the Nation Party Political Correctness Eradicator, Wayne Mapp* to assist him in getting Quantas and Air New Zealand, which admits to having a similar practice, to change their policies.

Is this a situation of profiling run amuck? I must admit this is a tough one for me to reconcile in my head. I can see the argument for wanting to protect children from pedophiles. While the child is on that plane, they are the legal guardians and can be held responsible for anything that happens to that child. But at the same time I can understand why this man was upset. If it were me, I would probably feel a little embarrassed and angry myself. But after pondering it for awhile, I have come to my own conclusion that the airline has gone too far in this one.

I think profiling can be a useful tool when used properly by law enforcement officials. It is a fact that most terrorists tend to be muslim males of middle eastern decent between the ages of 25 and 35. But they represent a small portion of the American population, so profiling them makes reasonable sense to me. In contrast, these airlines have instituted a policy of profiling fifty percent of the population. When you are talking about such a large portion like that, profiling loses its effectiveness.

That being said, it seems like something that is easy for the airline to do. It doesn't really require any extra resources which pass extra costs onto the consumer. As long as they don't deny access to the plane to anyone, I don't see this as discrimination. Mr. Worsley is trying to turn this into a Rosa Parks type event, but I'm just not seeing that. But there are other things the airline can do to prevent children from being seated next to a sexual predator.

Mr. Worsley was put in a situation where he was made the center of attention on the plane and some people may have perceived that to mean he was a problemed individual. That isn't right. In this day and age, we can single out child predators more effectively than just assuming every male is a potential sexual predator. The United States has set up national child predator databases. Flight passenger lists should be cross checked against those databases and in the event there is a match the suspected pedophile should be seated as far away from the child as possible and the flight crew should be discretely notified to keep the person and child on close watch. The parents of the child should be notified that there will be a convicted sexual offender on the flight with their child and give them the option of choosing another flight. In addition, unaccompanied children should be seated with a flight attendant or other airline official. Beyond that, if the airline wishes to seat unaccompanied children next to female passengers, I don't have a problem with it. But when mistakes are made, all efforts should be made to handle the situation in a discrete non-offensive manner. In the case of Mr. Worsley, that didn't happen.

(* - How cool is it that the New Zealand National Party has a Political Correctness Eradicator? How do we get one of those?)

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