FBI: Sexual assaults on airplanes jump nearly 30 percent in last year

The rate of reported sexual assaults on airplanes has increased every year since 2014 according to data we obtained from the FBI.

A Freedom of Information Act request shows there were 119 cases reported in 2019, up from 84 the year before -- a nearly 30 percent jump.

That is compared to 38 cases reported in 2014.

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One woman shared her story of a reported sexual assault on a red-eye flight to visit a friend in Rhode Island from Denver.

"Never did I think I would be the victim of a crime on an airline," Lena Ramsay said. "The man behind me started groping me. I felt so stuck and so trapped."

Ramsay said she reported the assault to a flight attendant but didn't get the response she was expecting.

"She helped him get off the plane and leave without any consequence," Ramsay said. "She never even reported it to the pilots."

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Ramsay did end up reporting it to law enforcement but the case is at a standstill since the suspect was never questioned.

She is now part of a class action lawsuit against Frontier Airlines for claims it failed to properly handle the reported assault.

Frontier Airlines has denied the allegations.

We spoke with the union representing flight attendants since they are often the victims of sexual assaults on flights.

"As an industry, we're not doing enough to take on this issue yet," said the President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA Sara Nelson.

Nelson said according to a survey the organization gathered, one in five members reported they have been sexually assaulted on the job.

Only seven percent said they have reported the assaults.

The FBI said just like with most sex crimes, sexual assaults on airplanes are under reported.

Nelson believes the rise in cases is largely because more people are coming forward to report the assaults.

"It is a whole host of groping and grabbing and slapping and touching," Nelson said.

Nelson said predators often take advantage of their surroundings in the skies.

"Seats are closer together," Nelson said. "There is an ability for the 'oops factor.' The line of sight is less. There's fewer flight attendants on the planes."

She said the lack of standardized training across the airline industry is another hurdle that affects how reports are handled.

"You don't have specific instructions in the manual to deal with this and then flight attendants are left to make their own determination and they're in a very difficult situation," Nelson said.

Nelson hopes the changes now in the works will help make flights safer.

In 2018, Congress approved the creation of an in-flight sexual misconduct task force within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

It includes law enforcement and airline representatives.

They are reviewing policies and requirements for airlines when it comes to responding to sexual assaults.

"There's a discussion among the industry about how to address this issue," Nelson said.

For Ramsay, closure in her case seems unlikely.

She said changes within the airline industry are critical to make sure other cases are handled properly.

"It has to be changed," Ramsay said. "These kinds of allegations have to be taken seriously."