FBI highlights increase of In-Flight sexual assaults and provides some useful advice

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In-flight sexual assault reports on the rise, FBI says

Assaults almost double

FBI provides advice on how to prevent/respond


“US law officials believe they’re assisting female flyers with the release of a ‘sexual assault prevention list’ designed to reduce the fast growing number of cases occurring at 32,000-feet.

-Caryn Highley, a special agent in the FBI’s Seattle Division

The article reviews some shocking incidents and they are disturbing.  Suffice it to say that no one should be subjected to such assaults. The prevention of such aberrant behavior is in the mind of airline cabin crews, but as the article makes it clear, these attacks are premeditated to be beyond the view of everyone on board.

The problem is not restricted to passengers; the FBI also recognizes that flight attendants are at risk, too.

Fortunately, the FBI provided useful advice how to deter the assailants:


Trust your gut: Offenders will often test their victims, sometimes pretending to brush against them to see how they react or if they wake up. ‘Don’t give them the benefit of the doubt,’ special agent David Gates says. If such behavior occurs, reprimand the person immediately, and consider asking to be moved to another seat.

Don’t knock yourself out: Recognize that mixing alcohol with sleeping pills or other medication on an overnight flight increases your risk. ‘Don’t knock yourself out with alcohol or drugs,’ Gates warns.

Create a barrier: If your seatmate is a stranger, no matter how polite he or she may seem, keep the armrest between you down.

Choose an aisle seat: If you are arranging for a child to fly unaccompanied, try to reserve an aisle seat so flight attendants can keep a closer watch on them. The FBI has seen victims as young as eight years old.

Report it: If an incident happens, report it immediately to the flight crew and ask that they record the attacker’s identity and report the incident. ‘Flight attendants and captains represent authority on the plane,’ Gates said. ‘We don’t want them to be police officers, but they can alert law enforcement, and they can sometimes deal with the problem in the air.’ The flight crew can also put the offender on notice, which might prevent further problems.

Crimes aboard aircraft fall within the FBI’s jurisdiction, and in the case of in-flight sexual assaults, agents describe elements of these crimes as being strikingly similar.

The attacks generally occur on long-haul flights when the cabin is dark. The victims are usually in middle or window seats, sleeping, and covered with a blanket or jacket.

They report waking up to their seatmate’s hands inside their clothing or underwear.

The FBI has launched a poster as part of its campaign to fight in-flight sexual assault, urging passengers to report any incidents by visiting tips.fbi.gov[2], calling 1-800-CALL-FBI, or visiting a local FBI office.

Almost 70 per cent of flight attendants say they’ve been sexually harassed while flying too 

Nearly 70 per cent of flight attendants say they have been sexually harassed while doing their jobs, a survey recently revealed.

The research also showed that one-in-three cabin crew had experienced verbal sexual harassment while one in five said they had been physically sexually harassed such as being groped, slapped or grabbed in the past year alone.

Meanwhile despite the prominent #MeToo movement, 68 per cent of flight attendants say there have been no efforts by airlines to address workplace harassment in the last year.

The study was the first of its kind to be carried out by US union the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA).

The survey quizzed 3,500 flight attendants from 29 US airlines with 80 per cent of the respondents women and 20 per cent men.

It revealed that 69 per cent said they had experienced sexual harassment during their flying careers.

In terms of verbal sexual harassment, 35 per cent said they had faced it in the past year, and of those, 68 per cent had faced it three or more times.

Respondents described verbal sexual harassment as comments that are ‘unwanted, lewd, crude, inappropriate, uncomfortable, sexual, suggestive, and dirty’.

Some also reported being subjected to passengers’ explicit sexual fantasies, propositions, request for sexual ‘favours’ and pornographic videos and pictures.

And most said that the most common response to this was to ignore the passenger for the rest of the flight.

The survey also revealed that 18 per cent of those asked said they had experienced physical sexual harassment from passengers in the past year.  More than 40 per cent of those suffered physical abuse three or more times.

If alerted in advance, FBI agents can be on hand when the plane lands to conduct interviews and take subjects into custody. FBI victim specialists can respond as well, because victims of federal crimes are entitled by law to a variety of services.

“It doesn’t matter when you report an in-flight sexual assault—we take it seriously, and we will pursue it,” Gates said. “But after the fact, these cases are much more difficult to prove.”

In most cases, when assaults are immediately reported to the flight crew, law enforcement on the ground will be notified and will be waiting to respond when the plane lands. If law enforcement is not able to respond on the ground, victims are encouraged after landing to contact the nearest FBI office.

Investigators point out that offenders take advantage of the fact that some victims might not report an incident because they are embarrassed, don’t want to cause a scene, or try to convince themselves the assault was accidental.

“These are not accidents,” Gates said. “We see the same pattern of behavior over and over again.”

As unpleasant as confrontation and accusation may be, courage exercised by individuals is the only way to stop recidivism. Many of the perpetrators may try again and some may be driven by psychological problems. Following the FBI’s recommendations and reporting an offender is difficult, but it is important to stop these assaults.


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