The number of sexual assaults being reported on major airlines is increasing industry wide and at an alarming rate according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to the FBI, the number of assaults they investigate in flights midair has increased 66 % from 2014 to 2017. These numbers only reflect the number of cases that have been reported, which leaves room to assume that these numbers are higher because not every case is reported to authorities.
According to a survey by the Association of Flight Attendants, 1 in 5 flight attendants have witnessed a passenger being sexually assaulted or had an assault reported to them. They also say that 1 in 5 have been sexually assaulted themselves while in the air, and 70 % state they have been sexually harassed on the job.
Flight attendants say that they are trained for numerous situations on flights from medical emergencies, to acts of terrorism. However, one gaping hole in their training is what to do if they or their passengers are sexually assaulted midflight. Often, flights are full and due to being in the air, there is no where to go. Passengers who have reported sexual assault often tell similar stories; they were asleep in their seat when the passenger next to them touched them inappropriately typically on or around their genitals. When these passengers go on to report this to flight attendants, the response is to tell the passenger to return to their seats. Sometimes, if there is space available they will be offered the option of switching seats to get away from the person who has just sexually assaulted them, which once again perpetuates the notion that the burden of changing the situation at hand falls on the victim rather then the assaulter.
In many cases, flight attendants do not know how to proceed. Sexual assault is clearly a crime, but with no clear procedures in place the perpetrator deplanes and continues on their way with no repercussions. There is a disconnect between the passenger, the flight attendants, the airlines, and the authorities. Flight attendants are unsure whether it is their job to ensure that authorities meet them at the gate, or whether it is on the passenger to report the assault once landing.
The FBI recommends that if you or someone you are travelling are sexually assaulted or harassed while on a flight, report it immediately to the flight crew. Ensure that they make not of the perpetrator’s seat number and identity. Ask that they alert ground authorities and ensure that they are waiting at the gate when the plane lands.
Airlines across the nation now say that they are increasing awareness and training for all flight crews and that crews are to treat all allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment as serious and to respond in a manner that ensures the safety of the passengers on board.