Rise in sexual assaults on commercial airlines has FBI baffled

As anyone who has flown in recent years knows, commercial airlines take safety seriously. Yet one danger is increasing – sexual assaults mid-flight.

On June 20, the FBI noted that reported sexual assaults have increased by two-thirds on flights since 2014. FBI special agents admit that sexual assaults on flights may remain under-reported.

At first glance, it isn’t entirely clear what accounts for the increase. One potential cause is a rise in what the International Air Transport Association calls “disruptive behavior” overall. This increase is taking place worldwide. It is also possible that the focus on sexual assault victims’ rights has led more people to report instances of sexual assault.

Are airlines responding appropriately?

It is not clear that airlines are doing enough to curb this behavior, or to report it properly when it does occur. The number of staff on airplanes has decreased in recent years. And flight attendants do not receive training on what to do if a passenger reports being sexual assaulted.

Currently, airlines can either report the behavior to police or the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA has no separate category or procedure for dealing with sexual misconduct.

The FBI is responsible for investigating criminal acts aboard flights, including sexual assault.

Victim rights

Many victims are unaware of their options if sexually assaulted mid-flight. It is important to note that the victim does not have to wait until the plane has landed. Reporting the behavior to flight attendants, even if they are ill-equipped to handle the issue, can still help keep victims safe during the flight and improve the chances of holding the perpetrator accountable once the flight has landed.

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