Journalist Joanna Chiu recently witnessed what so many have experienced: A creepy guy making creepy comments to the girl who was stuck next to him on a flight.
Thread about airplane creeps: I’m on a plane from a late-evening stopover from and was very tired and had a row to myself to sleep but couldn’t avoid noticing what was going on in the row behind me.
— Joanna Chiu 趙淇欣 (@joannachiu) March 25, 2019
In this case, Chiu says the girl was a teenager who was separated from the rest of her family, which made it all the easier for the man to chat her up, tease her and eventually ask her for a dirty photo.
You would think that the close quarters of an aeroplane would be a deterrent to sexual harassers and assaulters, but according to the FBI, sexual assault onboard aircraft is on the rise — or at the very least, it’s being reported more. Passengers need to be aware of the risks to keep themselves — and those around them — safe.
Do not disclose personal information
No matter how friendly the conversation seems to start off, you could inadvertently reveal something about yourself that makes you more of a target.
Tammy Yard-McCracken, owner of Personal Defence Industries in Virginia and a certified conflict communication instructor, told the New York Times that passengers need to be mindful about what they divulge to strangers.
“Everything you say is information,” she said. “People don’t think about what they say in casual social settings.”
She recalled overhearing a woman tell a seatmate that the previous six months had been tough because of a divorce. “That’s intel to somebody who is target hunting,” she said.
Keep your armrest down
It’s hard to create any semblance of “personal space” on an airplane. If you’re seated next to a stranger, though, one thing you can do to create a bit of a barrier is to keep the armrest down at all times, no matter how harmless they may seem.
End unwanted conversation
If you’re starting to get that trapped-in-a-conversation-I-don’t-like feeling, end it. Creepy people — or would-be assailants — don’t exactly take hints, so you’ll need to be swift and direct.
Pull out a book, tablet or laptop computer and say you need to catch up on work. Carry earbuds with you on flights so you can pop them in and pretend to listen to music or podcasts as needed.
Know the risk factors
The FBI says that most attacks happen to women and unaccompanied minors, particularly those in middle or window seats as they are sleeping and covered with a blanket or jacket.
Particularly for a child travelling alone, try to reserve a an aisle seat where they are more visible to the flight attendants, as well as other passengers.
Try to stay alert
FBI Special Agent David Gates advises against combining alcohol with sleeping pills or other medications because it increases your risk of an assault. “Don’t knock yourself out with alcohol or drugs,” he says.
Call attention to the behaviour
If someone is touching you in an unwelcome way, tell them to stop. Offenders will often brush up against their victims to see how they will react. Respond immediately something like, “Please don’t touch my leg.”
If it persists, you might give them a warning, such as, “Stop touching me or I will call the flight attendant.” Or, as a former corrections officer and self-defence author Rory Miller says in the Times, you might want to draw the attention of those seated around you:
“If you just say it loudly enough that everyone looks at you, ‘Hey you pervert, keep your hands off me,”’ he said, “everyone looks and keeps on looking. ‘Pervert’ is a magic word for self-defence.”
If the contact persists, notify a flight attendant either by pressing the call button or getting out of your seat to locate one. Flight attendants can move you to a safer seat and can often notify law enforcement in enough time to have them waiting to question the offender when the plane lands.
If you see something, say something
A person who is being harassed or assaulted may be too scared, embarrassed or confused to speak up for themselves. Pay close attention to what is happening around you on an aeroplane; if you see someone stuck in an uncomfortable or unwanted situation, call it out.
Joanna Chiu initially wanted to sleep on her flight, but when she heard warning bells in the conversation between the 30-something man and the teenage girl, she stayed vigilant.
When he leaned close to her to ask her for a “dirty photo,” Chiu says she “turned around and rage-whispered exactly what I thought of that.”
Another woman behind the girl also spoke up in support, telling her that she could change her seat. Be alert for warning signs that other passengers are vulnerable and don’t hesitate to get involved.