Sexual assaults on airplanes are becoming more frequent

Sexual assault reports on airplanes are up 45 percent this year.
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Sexual assaults on airplanes seem to be on the rise, and it might be because of how crowded airplanes are.

Stories of mid-flight groping have been gracing headlines for the past few weeks. The Washington Post wrote about it over the summer, and last weekend writer Ariana Lenarsky live-tweeted what happened after she reported a man on her flight rubbed her calf as she walked by.

All these incidents prompted the New York Times to look into how often this happens, and what can be done about it. According to the paper, investigations into in-flight sexual assaults have increased 45 percent this year – the FBI has opened 58 investigations into these incidents through September of this year.

That figure doesn't include any incidents reported to local or airport police, nor the sexual assaults that go unreported, as many of them do, with Quartz noting there's no agency that tracks how many of these incidents happen in the skies. There was a push in 2014 to pass a bill that would have made the Federal Aviation Administration keep statistics, but it didn't pass.

So why is this happening?

Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union, told the New York Times she thinks the conditions on airplanes – small spaces, alcohol, fewer flight attendants, and dark cabins on night flights – are contributing to more incidents of sexual assault.

The New York Times has some tips to help prevent it, including staying alert (so don't drink), booking an aisle seat, speaking up if you feel like something isn't right, and if you are assaulted, telling a member of the flight crew immediately.

If an assault does happen though, airline officials and crew members are "ill-equipped" to handle the situation, Slate reported in August. They don't get any special training on how to deal with such incidents, reports note. And there are some jurisdictional issues on who should investigate sexual assault claims in these cases.

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