In-flight sexual assault is punishable in the USA by up to 10 years in prison plus fines and mandatory restitution. But airlines are not mandated to report and record the incidence of in-flight sexual abuse. Therefore, victims cannot directly and timely report the crimes to law enforcement.
What's more, airlines have 4-5 step reporting procedures in place. They involve a flight attendant, the captain, the airline ground crew, and the airline station manager. Those procedures frustrate most investigations.
As a result, police do not usually meet the victim, perpetrator, and witnesses at the plane upon arrival and nothing is done. But even when law enforcement show up, the Offices of the US Attorneys often do not prosecute the case. And the FBI has no method to monitor how many cases were prosecuted by local and state prosecutors.
Small wonder that the hundreds to thousands of sexual abuse incidents are vastly underreported and rarely prosecuted, says Paul Hudson, president of FlyersRights.org. And he adds that those incidents mainly happen on long haul flights with lots of alcohol and usually to women traveling alone.
Detailed passenger complaints
FlyersRights.org has posted on its website 20 detailed passenger complaints of in-flight sexual assaults made to the US Department of Transportation (DOT). They obtained the complaints pursuant to Freedom of Information Act requests.
Sexual assault is more likely to occur on cramped, long-haul, and red-eye flights with darkened cabins. In addition, there are fewer passengers on those flights who are awake and have a line of sight as witnesses to a sexual assault.
Many of the complaints to the DOT involve intoxicated passengers, who were served alcohol on the plane. Notoriously, the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 exempts airlines from state Dram Shop laws,
Those laws make it illegal for businesses to sell alcohol to minors, or to customers who are already visibly drunk. Moreover, these laws place strict liability on the businesses that serve them alcoholic beverages.
In-Flight Sexual Assault Task Force
Fortunately, the recently enacted FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 creates a National In-Flight Sexual Assault Task Force. The task force members are expected to be announced on January 16, 2019.
Related: "Sex in the skies´
Tags: sexual abuse, intoxicated passengers