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Increase in Reports of Men Groping Teenage Girls and Women on Airplanes, According to FBI

Reports of men groping teenage girls and young women sitting next to them on airplanes are rising, according to federal statistics.

As of August 3, the FBI has investigated 62 cases of airborne sexual misconduct this year, surpassing pre-pandemic numbers.

In 2018, the FBI investigated 27 cases of sexual misconduct on aircraft, and in 2019, that number rose to 65, according to national data shared with newsfeedworld. The count fell to 34 incidents in 2020 due to COVID-19 flight restrictions, but increased to 81 in 2021 and 90 last year as travel resumed.

An FBI spokesperson stated that there has been a 25% increase in investigations from 2019 to 2021, despite passenger rates not yet returning to pre-pandemic levels.

The majority of the incidents involved victims who were sleeping, with 67% of cases involving alcohol or drugs and 20% targeting underage individuals.

Although the reported incidents represent a small fraction of the total number of commercial flights in the US, prosecutors are concerned about the upward trend.

In 2022, US airlines carried 853 million passengers, up from 658 million in 2021 and 388 million in 2020, when air travel was limited due to the pandemic.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington announced the separate prosecutions of four men who flew into Seattle this year:

  • Jack Roberson from North Carolina was arrested on a July 16 Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta. A 15-year-old girl stated that Mr. Roberson, 69, pretended to fall asleep and touched her inappropriately after consuming alcohol.
  • James Benecke, a 41-year-old Army chief warrant officer stationed in Alaska, is facing charges of abusive sexual contact on separate Alaska Airlines flights. He is accused of groping a 16-year-old girl on an April 12 flight from Anchorage and an 18-year-old woman on a June 12 flight from Dallas.
  • Airline mechanic Duane Brick will face trial on September 11 for allegedly touching an adult woman inappropriately during a March flight from Arizona.
  • Munir Walji allegedly inappropriately touched a 15-year-old girl during a flight from Atlanta.

Abusive sexual contact on an aircraft is a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

According to the spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office in Seattle, the four cases are the first to be prosecuted since 2018. The increase in cases may be due to more people flying after pandemic shutdowns and the awareness raised by the FBI’s “Be Air Aware” campaign.

While her office is still investigating other incidents, the spokesperson noted that charges will depend on the available evidence.

The surge in sexual assaults on airplanes coincides with a mental health crisis during the pandemic and an increase in “unruly passengers” causing disruptions on flights as COVID-19 travel restrictions eased.

According to psychologists, sexual predators have become emboldened in public over the last 5-10 years, with video games and screen time contributing to a lack of empathy towards others.

Unconscious young women on airplanes make easy targets for sexual predators who have lowered their inhibitions through alcohol. Even a single touch can cause lifelong trauma.

The Federal Aviation Administration separately tracks incidents involving “unruly passengers,” which includes any disruptive behavior during flights. Since 2021, there has been a significant increase in the number of reported cases.

According to the FAA, reports of unruly passengers rose from 1,009 in 2019 to 5,973 in 2021 as air travel resumed. In 2022, there were 2,455 incidents reported, and as of August 20, 1,281 incidents this year.

The FAA has referred 270 cases of unruly passengers to the FBI for criminal investigation since 2021, including 39 complaints so far this year.

The responsibility for detaining passengers accused of unruly behavior or sexual misconduct varies depending on the situation.

In the case of James Benecke, flight attendants moved him to a different seat, and federal investigators interviewed him after landing in Seattle. He was subsequently arrested a month later at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

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