Senators want flight crew training for sex assault

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden among the letter's 23 signers

A photo of an airplane. (MGN via Rudi Riet / CC BY-SA 2.0)
A photo of an airplane. (MGN via Rudi Riet / CC BY-SA 2.0)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Twenty-three United States Senators called on the Department of Justice and Federal Aviation Administration to improve training for flight crews so they are better able to recognize and respond to in-flight sexual assault or harassment.

According to the letter, there are no explicit guidelines for handling sexual assault. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden was one of the letter’s signers.

“We find this troubling and unacceptable,” the letter reads.

The letter states many long distance flights often occur overnight. There are “extended periods where no flight attendants walk through the aircraft cabin, and many guests sleep before landing in a different time zone.”

Long distance flights, according to the letter, could be “particularly hazardous” for travelers and could present a “prime opportunity for these [sex] crimes to occur.”

The group of lawmakers is calling on the FAA and DOJ to gather stakeholders and establish a workgroup to discuss and identify the issues and gaps, and develop policy solutions to support survivors of sexual assault; collect data to understand the prevalence of sexual assault aboard commercial aircraft among passengers, flight attendants, crewmembers, and pilots; and identify, collect and develop federal rules, guidelines and best practices for responding to sexual assault aboard commercial aircraft, including guidance on timely reporting.

The letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FAA Administrator Michael Peter Huerta came after one of the senator’s office staff heard from an individual who was sexually assaulted on a long distance flight.

She was given a new seat for several hours, she was ultimately asked by the flight attendants to return to her original seat next to her attacker for landing.

When the woman refused, the flight staff seated another male passenger next to him, offering airline miles for his inconvenience. The woman followed up with the airline and “was shocked to learn no report was filed” with the airline or proper authorities.

In Oregon, a federal grand jury indicted a woman with one count of abusive sexual contact after allegations that she touched a woman in a sexual manner while onboard an aircraft.

In a separate case, a 26-year-old was arrested at PDX for allegedly touching a girl.