Sexual Assault on Airplanes: Victims Usually Sit in Middle or Window Seats, FBI Warns

Passengers aboard commercial airline flights have reported being sexually harassed nearly twice as many times as was reported three years ago, an FBI report 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 fiscal year 2014 to 63 in 2017.

Speaking to WIVB 4, Gary Loeffer, acting agent in charge at the FBI Buffalo Field Office, 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 the fact that many passengers take sleeping pills on lengthy flights.

Sexual assault victims on planes are more likely to be sitting in the window or middle seat, says an FBI report. Getty Images

Despite the figure being relatively low compared with the "tens of millions" of airline passengers who fly each year, FBI Special Agent David Gates said that even one victim was too many. "We are seeing more reports of in-flight sexual assault than ever before," Gates said, who is based at Los Angeles International Airport and frequently investigates these cases.

Men are usually the perpetrators, with women and unaccompanied minors frequently the victims, according to the FBI report, but Gates said that 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," but he came at her a second and third time before she could get away and run 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 crew members that similar attacks were fairly common. "I was horrified; how can this be and I have never heard about it?"

The number of sexual assault cases on planes could be even higher than 63, according to the FBI, because many go unreported.