A woman takes photos by the kid's pool and no one bats an eyelid -- she's harmless – but what happens when a man does the same thing? An airline passenger is asked to move away from children on a plane -- he's done nothing wrong, except, he's a man.
On planes, in classrooms, by pools, men are being typecast in a role no-one wants to be known for. “Not every guy in society is a paedophile and to be viewed that way is a massive injustice”, said John McGirr.
On a flight to Sydney, passenger John McGirr says Virgin Airlines treated him like a sexual predator. It's not just Virgin, Qantas' policy is the same.
“On the face of it, the policy certainly does seem to be discriminatory. It is aimed particularly and only at men”, said Barrister David Galbally.
“I think the Sex Discrimination Commissioner should act on this immediately and shouldn't let it continue”, he added.
Virgin declined an interview. In a statement they say their policy is:
"...based on customer feedback and is common to many airlines"
However, in light of the John McGirr complaint, Virgin is in the process of
"finalising a new policy... Pending the outcome of a formal risk assessment"
Qantas, who has a similar policy, also refused an interview. In a statement, they too say their policy responds to customer demands. But in a straw poll of passengers, support for the airlines was minimal.
“One solution basically is to keep the seat free, so males or females can't sit there. But the reason that Virgin don't do that is because it is a seat they can't sell”, John said.
In view of the statistics, John sees Virgin's policy as illogical. “A lot of the time the male perpetrators are known to the child”, he said.
According to 2005 figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 30.2% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a male relative. The least likely is a stranger at 11.1%. “So basically Virgin would say to any uncle or father, I am sorry you are not allowed to sit next to your child or nephew because you could be a potential paedophile”, John said.
“The suspicion that, because I'm a male, their child is at some risk because I am taking the class rather than a female member of staff, offends me”, said Steve Badger.
Steve runs one of the country's most successful swim schools. He fears political correctness is scaring men out of his industry. “One of the kids that I had encouraged to become a swimming teacher, came to me and actually said this morning he has given up on being a swimming teacher because he didn't want an occupation where he felt he was under constant scrutiny because of the way he was handling children”, Steve said.
The governing authority, AustSwim, now trains teachers to ask permission every time a child in a class needs to be held or touched.
“I am yet to be convinced that any of these measures have actually protected one extra child. Has there been a drop in the incidence of child abuse because we have to do a working with children check each year? I haven't seen numbers to back that up”, said ???.
And in the classroom, male teachers are becoming an endangered species. “There's nothing more important than educating the next generation and we should have our brightest and best -- both men and women -- doing that work”, said Norm Hart.
Norm is the President of the Australian Primary Principals Association. “It is the fear of litigation, of being judged, of having people think that you have ulterior motives for the work that you do, that makes people or particularly young men say well that is not the profession for me”, Norm said.
“We're all disassociating ourselves from children and I think that's quite sad because that connection has now become lost”, John said.
“The consequences of the idea that all men are predators are so damaging. What it means is it will change the way we perceive each other, the way we interact and it is already modifying our behaviours”, said Dr Karen Brooks.
Dr Brooks is a Professor of Cultural Studies and believes society risks alienating men on a wide scale. “Gender discrimination against men does exist within our society and we see it in multiple forms”, she said.
“What a terrible thing to do to our young men, to do to our brothers, our nephews, our husbands, our lovers. It’s so dreadful -- let's stop it”, Dr Brooks said.