A number of commenters on this blog and others have blamed my wife and me for what happened to our daughter, saying that if only we had flown with her, it wouldn’t have happened.
Other commenters have responded briefly and well to that accusation, but I also wanted to share my wife’s response…
The unaccompanied minor program is described by the airline as an extremely supervised and secure process in which the child is never alone (which ours was not) and is only separate from parents and their desiginated caretakers for the time in which they are actually on the airplane; you bring them to the jetway and pick them up at the other end right off the jetway. Airline personnel are some of the best vetted and screened employees in the country.
If your child rides a bus to school or camp, goes to overnight camp, walks or rides his or her bike to friend’s houses, goes to an afterschool program, goes to houses of friends who are in the care of a sitter or nanny whom you did not personally hire, is in another room from you in the house when you are having plumbing or electrical work done, uses a computer without your eyes on the screen the whole time, or plays in the park while you read or chat with your friends, they are not being any more protected by you from these roaming perverts everyone fears.
When I fly on an airplane with my five children, I cannot sit next to all of them. Most times we are in different rows and sometimes we are split by several rows even after rearranging with fellow passengers. When I go to the bathroom in public places, I bring the younger ones into the stall with me, but not the whole family. I am a married stay-at-home mom who drives my kids to and from school, and I am not with them every second of every day. If you are with your ten-year-old every second of every day, I think you need some help.
We know most abusers are relatives and trusted adults. We know that even strangers who abuse first tend to “groom” their victims to gain their trust. Yet we understand intuitively that we cannot possibly function in society if we fear and suspect everyone we know who has contact with our children. If you believe there is a qualitative difference between the above scenerios and the unaccompanied minor program on airplanes, that is fine. There are plenty of things my friends let their children do that I choose not to allow. But if you believe that every time something goes wrong in the world, you would have been able to avoid it by your superior judgement and parenting skills, perhaps your free time is better directed away from criticizing strangers on the internet and into volunteering for social services. Or you could get a cape, a mask and an alter ego and save us all from the horrors of the real world.