"Sexual assault on an aircraft is a federal crime," the FBI warns in its new Be Air Aware campaign—and it's a crime that the agency says has increased "at an alarming rate" in recent years. The bureau says there has been a steady rise in reported mid-air incidents, with the 38 investigations it opened in 2014 rising to 63 last year; the true number of incidents could be much higher, reports CNN. The FBI says it's not sure what's behind the increase, but it urges passengers to "hit that call button" and notify the flight crew immediately when there is an incident. Too often, passengers either fail to report the assault or only report it long after the flight, when it is harder to investigate and prosecute offenders, the bureau says.
The FBI says sexual assault is more common on long-haul, overnight flights and often happens when a passenger is asleep. Brian Nadeau, assistant special agent in charge of the Baltimore division, tells the Washington Post that alcohol is often involved, and it is common for victims to be in either the middle or window seats. "We find offenders will often test their victims, sometimes brushing up against them to see how they will react or if they will wake up," Nadeau says. "Do not give these offenders the benefit of the doubt." (This airline has created a service to help women flying alone.)