Unaccompanied minors as young as 8 years old are getting sexually assaulted during midair flights, FBI warns

As travelers gear up to take flights during the holiday, the FBI is sending out a stark warning that sexual assaults aboard airplanes are on the rise, with unaccompanied minors being the most-targeted group.

WGN9 reports that midair sexual assaults are increasing and have jumped up by 66 percent from 2014 to 2017. According to FBI, there were 63 reported cases of sexual assault aboard plans in 2017 alone, a number likely higher as not everyone reports the abuse. Children as young as 8 years old have also been victims to sexual assault aboard planes.

Authorities said most sexual assault incidents occur on long-haul flights after people take sleeping pills or drink alcohol. Most victims were seated in the middle seat or window seat.

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For instance, in 2016, a woman who frequently takes overseas flights reported an incident of sexual assault after a man allegedly grabbed her when she dozed off, according to the FBI.

“The flights usually leave around 6 p.m. I have dinner, watch a movie, and go to sleep. I was dozing off toward the end of the movie, and all of a sudden I felt a hand in my crotch.”

The woman, disoriented, screamed “NO” and ran to the bathroom. She then told the flight crew what happened and a flight attendant reportedly told her that she, too, had been groped in the past.

“There is a perception on an airplane that you’re in a bubble of safety,” FBI Special Agent Caryn Highley said. “But particularly on overnight flights, where people may consume alcohol or take sleeping pills, and a dark cabin and close-quarter seating can give the perception of privacy and intimacy, offenders are tempted by opportunity.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Doug Hyde urged flight clews to remain vigilant and aware during flights. If sexual assault is suspected, authorities can be ready when the plane lands, to assist with the situation.

“We do work with flight crews to try and make them aware and to try and get them to contact law enforcement as well. There’s law enforcement at the airports 24/7. Someone could always meet the flight and we physically have agents at O’Hare and Midway.”

Authorities urge people to not “knock themselves out” with sleeping pills and to remain sober during flights. Further, children should always get an aisle seat if possible, where flight attendants can monitor them closely.

“There are all sorts of people in the air, just like on the ground,” Gates added. “Flyers need to be aware of their surroundings and take a few simple precautions to stay safe.”

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[Feature Photo: Pixabay]