Sexual Assault On Airplanes Is Way Too Common, And #MeToo Could Change That

By Emily C. Bell

Unsplash/Tim Gouw
Passengers are telling their stories.

Over the past year, airlines have increasingly come under fire for racist incidents — and now, for sexual assault. Though incidents of sexual assault and harassment on airplanes are far from new, the first week of 2018 has already seen one story break about a woman sexually assaulted on a Spirit Airlines flight. As 2017 brought more attention to the occurrence of harassment, all eyes are now on corporate airlines for their failure to appropriately address the abuse.

The International Air Transport Association stated that worldwide last year there were 211 incidents of “inappropriate sexual behavior.” Of those, IATA said less than 50 percent were subsequently sent to the authorities and airlines are unable to file charges in these instances. Thus, a spokesperson told Reuters they “believe under-reporting occurs.”

A 2,000-person survey by the Association of Flight Attendants found that one-fifth of responding flight attendants “had dealt with complaints of sexual assault from passengers,” as the Seattle Times reported. Also of the survey’s finding, the Seattle Times wrote, “that law enforcement was contacted or met the plane less than half of the time.”

Here are some recent incidents that have come to light.

1. Randi Zuckerberg’s experience on Alaska Airlines

Randi Zuckerberg, the CEO of Zuckerberg Media (and sister to Facebook’s Mark), was sexually harassed on a flight from Los Angeles to Mazatlan, Mexico, at the end of November. She shared the letter she sent to Alaska Airlines on Facebook:

Alaska Airlines launched an investigation and suspended the passenger’s “travel privileges.” One of the issues Zuckerberg highlighted was the crew’s offer to move her from first class to a seat in the rear of the plane, which she declined. She wrote, “Why is it the woman that needs to switch seats in this situation? Shouldn’t he have been thrown off the plane?!”

2. A man on Delta Airlines, among others

Right before the new year, CNN released a story sharing the experiences of several women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted while flying on various airlines. Ayanna Hart said she was grabbed multiple times by a drunken man on a Delta flight, but that flight attendants were dismissive and told her the passenger “flies with us all the time.” CNN reports that Hart is suing Delta “for failing to intervene and continuing to serve the man alcohol.”

3. Allison Dvaladze’s experience on Delta Airlines

Allison Dvaladze was assaulted on a 2016 flight from Seattle to Amsterdam. Though flight attendants had said they would write a report, when she followed up with Delta, no such report had been filed. Delta provided her with 10,000 of its SkyMiles and said in a statement to the Seattle Times: “We continue to be disheartened by the events Ms. Dvaladze described,” and, “We take all accounts of sexual assault very seriously and conduct routine reviews of our processes.”

Now, Dvaladze is speaking out, including to CNN. She started a Facebook page called, “Protect airline passengers from sexual assault” and lobbied Senator Patty Murray, who sent letters to the FAA and DOJ with signatures from other senators. Dvaladze also worked with Senator Robert Casey on the Stopping Assault while Flying Enforcement Act of 2017, which was sent to committee in the summer.

Luckily, in some cases, these accusations are handled correctly.

4. Spirit Airlines assault

A man accused of sexually assaulting a woman on a Spirit Airlines flight to Detroit had a court hearing on January 3. As Time magazine reported, Prabhu Ramamoorthy has a charge of aggravated sexual abuse against him. According to the complaint, the woman was sleeping and awoke “to a hand in her pants and noticed that her pants and shirt were unbuttoned.” The Detroit Free Press reported, “She reported that the man was shoving his ‘fingers in her (genitals) and vigorously moving them. When she fully woke up, the man stopped.’”

The woman spoke to the flight attendants on board and Ramamoorthy was arrested when the plane stopped over in Las Vegas. The Detroit Free Press reported that Spirit Airlines cooperated fully with law enforcement on the case.

This story first appeared at AlterNet, and is republished here with permission.

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