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FBI Warns of Increasing Sexual Assault on Airplanes

Newsweek logo Newsweek 6/20/2018 James Hetherington
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Passengers aboard commercial airline flights are being sexually harassed nearly twice as much as three years ago, an FBI report has revealed.

On Wednesday, the agency will hold a press conference at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in a bid to raise awareness about sexual harassment on planes. According to the report, which was published in April, sexual assault cases rose from 38 in 2014 to 63 in 2017 (fiscal years).

Speaking to WIVB 4, FBI Buffalo Field Office acting agent in charge Gary Loeffer said predators often use the same methods to assault victims. “The attacks generally occur on long haul flights when the cabin is dark,” Loeffer said. “The victims are usually in the middle or window seats. The victims are usually sleeping and covered with a blanket or jacket.”

Loeffer said offenders would often take advantage of passengers who had taken sleeping tablets on lengthy flights.

Despite the figure being relatively low compared to the “tens of millions” of airline passengers each year, FBI special agent David Gates said even one victim was too many. “We are seeing more reports of in-flight sexual assault than ever before,” Gates said, who works at Los Angeles International Airport.

Men are usually the perpetrators (with women and unaccompanied minors being the victims), the FBI report states. But Gates said it was not always the case. “We have seen every combination of victim and perpetrator.”

One of the victims recounted her story to the FBI. “I fly overseas often. The flights usually leave around 6 p.m., I have dinner, watch a movie, and go to sleep. I was dozing off toward the end of the movie, and all of a sudden I felt a hand in my crotch.”

The woman instinctively told the predator "no" and then stopped him from trying a second and third time. She was eventually able to escape her seat and ran to the bathroom. “It didn’t make sense to me. It was all so disorienting and confusing.”

She was moved to another seat and told by airline staff that similar attacks were fairly common. “I was horrified; how can this be and I have never heard about it?”

The FBI has warned the number of sexual assault cases could be even higher than 63 since many go unreported.

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