What to do if you’re sexually assaulted on a plane

On a recent flight, the large muscular man seated in the middle seat next to me was looking at naked footage of himself on his phone. He was tilting his phone towards me and zooming in on his penis.

Feeling extremely violated and fearful that he was going to touch me, I quietly got up to alert the flight attendant. They went to speak to the man, but they wouldn’t reseat me. I didn’t know what the passenger was capable of and worried that he would retaliate for telling on him.

My fear was justified. Dismissing passengers is nothing new although The Federal Aviation Administration regulation part 121.421.ii states flight attendants must be trained in “passenger handling, including the procedures to be followed in the case of deranged persons or other persons whose conduct might jeopardize safety. ”

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The FBI maintains jurisdiction over investigating crimes on US aircraft, airspace or assaults involving American citizens.

The FBI reported that inflight sexual assaults increased by 30% from 2018 to 2019. These statistics don’t include unreported incidents or those handled by local law enforcement.

The bureau determined sexual predators typically attack on long-haul flights when the cabin is dark, perhaps because of fellow passengers taking sleeping pills or consuming alcohol. Perpetrators target those covered with a blanket in the middle or window seats.

What to do if you’re assaulted in the air?

• If you’re sexually abused on a plane, leave your seat as soon as possible and alert a crew member of the situation.

If you’re in the window or middle seat and trapped, press the call button to alert a crew member. Insist you be moved and refuse to return to your assigned seat upon landing.

• Lawyer Julie Hancock of Your Virtual Aid recommends making note of the full names of the flight crew to whom you disclosed your attack, especially if they’re less than helpful.

• The FBI advises passengers should demand that flight attendants make note of the identity of the alleged assailant. People move from their assigned seats, so it’s important the flight attendant records the name of the offender.

• Law enforcement should be called to meet the aircraft upon arrival, but the Association of Flight Attendants reported in 2017 that this happens less than half of the time.

• Request that the captain reports the incident to the airport police. Upon landing, law enforcement should be waiting at the gate to determine if an incident is criminal.

• Law enforcement should detain and question the attacker. They’re supposed to notify the FBI, but if they don’t, call 1-800-CALL-FBI. Many US airports have an FBI satellite office, so FBI agents may also be there upon landing.

• Law enforcement may require a witness to identify the suspect and testify. Request the flight crew to ask passengers if they saw the predator touching you, evidence of a struggle, or overheard anything during the assault.

• Sexual harassment lawyer, Steven Azizi of Miracle Mile Law Group suggests asking if anyone videotaped the incident and trying to obtain the footage.

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‘Don’t wait to file a police report’

According to David Reischer of LegalAdvice.com, it’s important to immediately file a report at the airport when the plane lands.

“Don’t wait to file a police report with your local authorities … (as they) may not have the resources or authority to do any follow-up investigation,” he said.

Hancock suggests emailing someone you trust with a detailed account of what happened.

You may need medical care.

”Sexual abuse on a flight may be accompanied by physical violence, so getting medical attention is vital, either on the flight or immediately upon landing,” Azizi said.

Law enforcement may collect your clothes to collect DNA samples as evidence. If you’re taken to the hospital, request a rape kit.

“By seeking medical care it’ll be harder for the airline to deny the assault occurred,” Azizi added.

Commercial flights are not law-free zones and sexual abuse is a crime.

“Contact an attorney to discover your rights. A lawyer can help you receive compensation for your injuries and emotional distress caused by the abuse,” Azizi said. “If the airline provided an excessive amount of alcohol to the abuser, the passenger can argue that the airline played a substantial part in the misconduct. ”

Reischer recommends filing a claim against all culpable parties.

“An experienced lawyer will file a claim against the airline carrier and the person or persons that acted unlawfully. They’ll bring a lawsuit for damages against any party that has potential liability,” he said.

Keep records of all correspondence from the airline. According to Hancock, the way the airline handles the situation may open them up to legal liability.

“You may have legal recourse if they don’t take it seriously or do anything to help the situation,” Hancock said.

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or visit hotline.rainn.org/online and receive confidential support.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sexual assault on a plane: What you can do while in the air, after

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