Airline sexual assault usually takes the form of unwelcome touching, a felony that can land offenders in prison. But even with such steep consequences, criminals are undeterred and often go unpunished. It is not uncommon for victims to navigate the problem with little help due to a lack of support.
What options do passengers have to protect themselves from airline sexual assault?
Sexual assault attorney and victim-advocate Jessica Pride shares her own tips for plane ride safety.
- Don’t accept drinks from strangers
- Remember to stay hydrated
- Be sure to lock the door and ensure no one is following you into the restroom
- If you feel uncomfortable, hit the flight attendant call button immediately
- Request to be moved to another seat, away from your harasser
- Report any sexual assault to the airline
- Request FBI agent and law enforcement assistance
- Call an attorney for legal advice surrounding your situation
Read on to learn more about the key issues behind airline sexual assault and what you can do if you’ve been attacked.
Airline Sexual Assault Becoming Prevalent
Sexual assault aboard aircraft is a growing problem. Reports of sexual assault on commercial flights are increasing at “an alarming rate.”
Many factors contribute to the prevalence of airline sexual assault. A lack of accountability onboard aircraft is the biggest issue. Passengers are stuck on the plane with nowhere to go while they are forced to sit next to strangers. When it comes to personal space—there simply isn’t any on airplanes.
Long international flights seem to bring out the worst in people. With hours in a dark cabin, many may be drinking or using sleeping aids and passengers can become easy targets for sexual predators.
A victim might ask the flight attendant for a seat change when problems arise. But when a flight is at capacity, changing seats is sometimes not an option. A lack of airline protocol makes managing difficult events like sexual assault distressing.
Causes of Mid-Air Sexual Assault
Because midair sexual assaults often go unreported, the FBI does not know the exact number. In a 2016 study by The Association of Flight-Attendants CWA, 2,000 flight attendants were surveyed. Out of those who responded, 1 of 5 received a passenger complaint about sexual assault, but law enforcement was contacted less than half the time.
“In my 22 years as a flight attendant, I have never taken part in a conversation — in training or otherwise — about how to handle sexual harassment or sexual assault.”
– Sara Nelson, flight attendant for United Airlines
Just as troubling is the fact that flight attendants are not properly trained to handle events of criminal behavior. According to union president/ United Airlines flight attendant Sara Nelson, “In my 22 years as a flight attendant, I have never taken part in a conversation — in training or otherwise — about how to handle sexual harassment or sexual assault.”
Because flight attendants lack the necessary training to handle such incidents, predators are not being punished for sexual assault and have incentive to continue their behavior without experiencing any repercussions for it.
Incidents of Airline Sexual Assault
Several women have publicly come forward with heart-breaking and infuriating stories of airline sexual assault.
In 2018, a man was arrested after a United Airlines flight from Newark to Buffalo, New York. He was accused of sexually assaulting two women, one of which was Katy Campos. Campos explained her ordeal in detail, “He grabbed my upper thigh in the crotch area, and he grabbed it pretty forcefully.”
United Airlines claims that they stand behind their “zero-tolerance” policy for this type of behavior. But Campos explained that after reporting the man’s behavior, the flight attendant did not offer to move her to a different seat. Instead, she had to demand it. Campos did get to change seats; however, she was placed directly behind her perpetrator where the molestation continued.
Campos took to Twitter where she shared about her experience:
“Was sexually harassed on a United flight. Shocked by the lack of coordinated response by United to ensure passenger safety. The man kept touching me until the very end.” She ended her tweet with the hashtag #DoBetter.
“If someone reports a crime to an airline, then it should be flagged. It should not be treated as lost luggage.”
– Allison Dvaladze, airline sexual assault victim
In April 2016, Allison Dvaladze filed a complaint with Delta after her flight from Seattle to Amsterdam.
As she explained, “I was dozing off when I felt a hand in my crotch and realized the man next to me was grabbing my crotch.” She explained that during her flight, “there was not a clear procedure for what they should do. They asked me what I wanted them to do.”
The airline offered her 10,000 miles to compensate for her experience, but Dvaladze felt the offer was unacceptable. “If someone reports a crime to an airline, then it should be flagged. It should not be treated as lost luggage.”
Unfortunately, without a proper protocol in place, countless of unsuspecting victims fall prey to perpetrators aboard aircraft, and often, the matter is left unresolved.
Protecting Yourself Against Airline Sexual Assault
The FBI is actively raising awareness about the issue of airline sexual assault in an effort to help people protect themselves and report incidents immediately.
The FBI suggests the following precautions:
- Act swiftly. Don’t give the perpetrator the benefit of the doubt and assume their behavior could was an accident. Reprimand them immediately and ask to be moved to another seat.
- Play it safe. Mixing alcohol with sleeping pills or medication increases your risk.
- Keep the armrest down if your seatmate is a stranger, no matter how nice he or she may seem.
- Pick an aisle seat for children to keep a close watch on them.
Report incidents of sexual assault immediately to the flight crew and request that they record the perpetrator’s identity and report the incident.
Get Legal Help and Speak with an Experienced Sexual Assault Attorney
Sexual assault is a criminal act. Victims of assault have the right to pursue justice in both criminal and civil courts.
Were you or a loved one sexually assaulted on an airline? You are not alone. It’s not your fault and there is something you can do about it.
Attorney Jessica Pride has represented countless victims of abuse, empowering them to transform their lives. Speak with Jessica Pride today at (619) 516-8166 for a free, private consultation and take the first step towards regaining your peace and confidence.