FBI official warn of sexual assault on aircrafts

Published: Jun. 18, 2022 at 6:21 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WSMV) - The FBI Memphis Office warned Tennesseans about a recent spike in sexual assault on airplanes this week.

FBI officials said in each of their 56 field offices; that airport liaison agents are assigned to nearly 450 United States aviation facilities with passenger screening operations regulated by the Transportation Security Administration. These agents report crimes to the FBI.

“As summer is upon us and more people are flying, the FBI expects to see an increase in reported sexual assaults,” said Special Agent in Charge Douglas Korneski of the FBI Memphis Field Office. “Sexual assault aboard aircraft is a federal felony. Anyone who believes they have been sexually assaulted is encouraged to alert a flight crew member.”

FBI officials said sexual assaults on board an aircraft typically occur on longer flights and when the cabin is dark. Victims are typically in middle or window seats, sleeping, and covered with a blanket or jacket.

According to reports, victims typically wake up to find the perpetrator’s hands inside their clothing or underwear. In addition, many passengers may consume alcohol or take prescription drugs to relax or sleep. According to the FBI, this can both lend a false sense of security and may tempt offenders who find these victims vulnerable.

Suspects also are known to take advantage of the fact that some victims might not report an incident because they are embarrassed, don’t want to cause a scene, or may try to convince themselves the assault was accidental.

Passengers are encouraged to take the following precautions before and during a flight:

  • Offenders will often test their victims, sometimes pretending to brush against them to see how they react or if they wake up. If such behavior occurs, establish boundaries and consider asking to be moved to another seat.
  • Recognize that mixing alcohol with sleeping pills or other medication on an overnight flight increases your risk.
  • If your seatmate is a stranger, no matter how polite they may seem, keep the armrest between you.
  • If you are arranging for a child to fly unaccompanied, try to reserve an aisle seat so flight attendants can closely watch them. Minors are known targets.
  • If an incident happens, report it immediately to the flight crew and ask that they record the attacker’s identity and report the incident. Then, they can alert law enforcement if necessary.

The FBI said notification to law enforcement is critical because crime aboard aircraft is more difficult to investigate once days, or even hours, have passed following the incident since witnesses depart, and recollections fade.

FBI victim specialists can respond as well because victims of federal crimes are entitled by law to various services, according to FBI officials. If law enforcement cannot respond on the ground, victims are encouraged after landing to contact the nearest FBI office.

The FBI Memphis Field Office can be reached 24 hours a day at 901-747-4300. Tips can also be submitted online at tips.fbi.gov.

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