Sexual Assaults On Airplanes Increasing At 'Alarming Rate': FBI

HANOVER, MD — The number of sexual assaults aboard aircraft is increasing, authorities said last week, and inappropriate touching or aggravated assaults happen most often on lengthier, overnight flights. Agents from the FBI Baltimore office held a news conference to urge victims to immediately notify flight crews of unwanted touching during flights, which is a federal crime, and offered tips fliers can follow for their safety.

The FBI says the number of sexual assaults on board planes was at 38 in 2014, and increased to 63 last year, although agents know not every attack is reported. FBI Agent David Rodski said the number of reported assaults in the skies are “increasing … at an alarming rate.” Maryland Transportation Authority Police confirmed that the most recent incident happened on May 29.

Many victims are seated in middle or window seats, are covered by a blanket or a jacket, and are often asleep when they are assaulted, agents said. Victims range from children to adults; most of the incidents happen in the back of planes.

Particularly on overnight flights, where people may consume alcohol or take sleeping pills, and a dark cabin and close-quarter seating can give the perception of privacy and intimacy, offenders are tempted by opportunity, authorities said.

“Unfortunately, people don’t think things like this happen on airplanes,” said Caryn Highley, a special agent in the FBI’s Seattle Division who investigates crimes aboard aircraft, in a news release. “There is a perception on an airplane that you’re in a bubble of safety,” Highley said.

Flights become terrifying ordeals for passengers who are assaulted. “One thing most of them say is they’re wondering, ‘What did I do? Was it something I did, said?'” FBI Victim Specialist Renee Murrell said, reports WJZ.

NPR reports the number of sexual assaults on commercial airline flights have increased from 38 in 2014 to 63 in 2017. A recent survey by the Association of Flight Attendants says an estimated one in five flight attendants have seen a passenger being sexually assaulted or had an assault reported to them. Nearly one in five flight attendants have been sexually assaulted themselves and 70 percent say they’ve been sexually harassed while on a plane..