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April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and the FBI once again taken the opportunity to alert the public about a serious federal crime that is on the rise: sexual assault aboard aircraft.

While sexual assault can happen anywhere, many people who fly while traveling do not realize that sex assaults can and do occur on airplanes.

“Kristi K. Johnson, the assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office said, “Most passengers travel by air without incident, but if you or a loved one encounter what you believe is physical or verbal sexual misconduct, immediately alert your flight attendant. Flyers should take precautions and always be aware of their surroundings.”

In each of its 56 field offices, the FBI has airport liaison agents (ALA) assigned to the nearly 450 U.S. aviation facilities that have passenger screening operations regulated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The ALAs respond to crime aboard aircraft, a violation which falls within the FBI’s special investigative jurisdiction. In larger airports including Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), multi-agency task forces are on location to investigate a variety of criminal and national security matters, from sexual assaults to terrorism and espionage.

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. While sex assault can happen anywhere, many people don’t realize that they can and do occur on airplanes. Most passengers travel by air without incident, but if you or a loved one encounter sexual misconduct, whether physical or verbal, please alert your flight attendant immediately. The FBI investigates crimes aboard aircraft, including sexual assaults.In Los Angeles, you can reach out to the FBI 24 hours a day at 310-477-6565 or at fbi.gov

Sexual assault aboard aircraft is a felony which can be punishable by prison. Many incidents are not reported immediately, or not reported at all. Law enforcement urges anyone who believes they have been sexually assaulted to alert a member of the flight crew.

While sexual assaults were reported during 2020 and 2021, passengers were separated on many flights and less people were flying. As COVID restrictions have eased; however, more people are flying and all airplane seats are made available on most airlines. For these reasons, agents expect to see an increase in reported sexual assaults.

In-flight sexual assaults generally occur on longer flights and when the cabin is dark. The victims are usually in middle or window seats, sleeping, and covered with a blanket or jacket. Victims report waking up to find the perpetrator’s hands inside their clothing or underwear. Many passengers may consume alcohol or take prescription drugs to relax or sleep, and this can both lend a false sense of security and may tempt offenders who find these victims vulnerable. In addition, offenders 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. Below are suggested precautions passengers can take before and during their flight.

  • Trust your gut. 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 he or she may seem, keep the armrest between you down.
  • If you are arranging for a child to fly unaccompanied, try to reserve an aisle seat so flight attendants can keep a closer watch on 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. They can alert law enforcement, if necessary.

Timely notification to law enforcement is key. Crime aboard aircraft is more difficult to investigate once days, or even hours, have passed following the incident since witnesses depart and recollections fade. If alerted in advance, FBI agents can be on hand when the plane lands to conduct interviews and take subjects into custody. FBI victim specialists can respond as well because victims of federal crimes are entitled by law to a variety of services. If law enforcement is not able to respond on the ground, victims are encouraged after landing to contact the nearest FBI office.

In Los Angeles, the FBI can be reached 24 hours a day at 310 477-6565. Tips can also be submitted online at tips.fbi.gov.