In 2017 a survey conducted by the Association of Flight Attendants found that 1 in every 5 flight attendants had at some point received a complaint from a passenger about another passenger sexually assaulting them while in flight. The survey’s findings showed that in merely less than half of the cases, law enforcement was contacted by supervisors of the airlines in which the assaults occurred.
In the months after the #MeToo movement, women have struggled to feel heard when it comes to incidents of assault that place in flight.
A recent report conducted by BuzzFeed News revealed a common arch in the ways in which airlines deal with sexual assault, particularly self-exposure and masturbation, and it involves a large broom and a rug. After a slew of reports streaming from the front pages of media outlets this year, there’s no doubting that incidents of assault on commercial airplanes are commonplace. Still, it’s an occurrence that airlines like United and American Airlines would rather have you not know about. In 2017 sixty-three cases of in-flight sexual assault were reported to the FBI. However, according to a report by the agency, it’s a number that just barely hits the tip of the glacier.Particularly when considering the fact that the FBI also underlined in their report that sex offenders on planes often take advantage of the fact that many victims are too embarrassed or afraid to make a scene and report what has happened to them.
Of the stories highlighted in the report, most reveal that airlines didn’t take action after incidents were brought to their attention.
Many of the women in the report claimed that airlines such as United, Delta, and American often swept their complaints under the rug often by moving them to other rows, telling passengers that they would report the events to police when actually never doing so, making jokes, and in one case that—involved United— paying victims $75 for their troubles. This is despite the fact that masturbating on an airplane is considered criminal behavior. In one case a woman by the name of Mikaela Dixon told the outlet that a man in the seat next to her during a United flight from Orange County to Chicago on August 11 rubbed himself through his pocket while “making noises and breathing heavily.” In a tweet about the incident, Dixon wrote “I just shook silently in my seat for hours. I just had the worst panic attack of my life.”
Sadly, many of the women involved in the reported incidents have claimed to have experienced panic attacks, feelings of shame, as well as feelings of being sexually assaulted after witnessing a fellow male passenger masturbate in front of them on a plane. Yet, in Dixon’s case, after she was told by flight attendants that they had contacted the Chicago police and that the man would be detained at the gate, she soon found out from other passengers that the man had been allowed to leave the airport on his own. An officer at the Chicago Police Department confirmed that the police had never received a 911 call from United once the flight had landed.