A lot of terrible things can happen on an airplane. But few passengers worry about a fellow passenger committing sexual assault. Yet, statistics reveal a recent spike in reported sexual assaults in the least likely of places — the airplane. The FBI has eveb issued a new warning to travelers about this horrific crime.
According to one federal official, “The attacks generally occur on long haul flights when the cabin is dark. The victims are usually in the middle or window seats. The victims are usually sleeping and covered with a blanket or jacket,” he said. In 2014, there were 38 cases of sexual assault aboard an aircraft was reported to the FBI nationally. In 2017, the number of reported cases jumped to 63.
A recent survey from the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), a union of 50,000 flight attendants representing 20 airlines, suggests that in-flight sexual assault allegations are reported to law enforcement less than half of the time. The AFA survey also found that one in five flight attendants has encountered a passenger-on-passenger in-flight sexual assault. Surprisingly, the FAA doesn’t require any sexual-assault-specific training for flight attendants. Further complicating the reporting process, crimes committed on an airplane fall under federal jurisdiction (the FBI if you’re in the United States) but local law enforcement are typically the officers that will be called to the gate.
Attorney Adam Horowitz has filed claims on behalf of passengers who were sexually assaulted while traveling on airplanes and when traveling by train. The offending passenger as well as the airline may both be legally responsible for this sexual misconduct in a lawsuit. While your first priority as a victim or a witness should be to deal with the immediate situation and to speak with law enforcement, it’s also important to follow up with the airline afterward to make sure the incident is documented internally, as well.