Federal prosecutors announced two separate cases on Thursday in which men are charged with abusive sexual contact on aircraft bound for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
In one case, Babak Rezapour — 41, of Van Nuys, Calif. — allegedly used his jacket to hide the alleged assault of a sleeping woman who had drank wine and taken anxiety medication on a Norwegian Air flight from London to Seattle.
In the other, Nicholas Matthew Stevens — 37, of Anchorage, Alaska — allegedly feigned being asleep as he groped a women sitting next to him on an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Seattle.
The charges were announced Thursday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Washington state and follow a campaign by the FBI to raise awareness of the increasing number of reported sexual assault cases aboard airplanes.
The men face the federal charge of abusive sexual contact on an aircraft, which is punishable by up to two years in prison.
In an April release, the FBI documents similarities between many sexual assault incidents that occur on an airplane.
The perpetrators are typically male and the victims are usually women or unaccompanied children.
Often the attacks occur on long flights in a dark cabin. Victims are often sleeping in seats away from the isle and are covered with a blanket or jacket. In many cases, victims have consumed alcohol or sleeping medication.
Reports of sexual assault aboard airplanes have increased more than 60 percent since 2014, according to figures from the FBI. However, the dozens of reported cases is a “relatively small” number compared to the millions of passengers who fly every year, the release says.
“Unfortunately, people don’t think things like this happen on airplanes,” the release quotes special agent Caryn Highley, who investigates crimes aboard airplanes. “There is a perception on an airplane that you’re in a bubble of safety.”
The FBI offers a number of tips for preventing and responding to sexual assault crimes aboard an aircraft:
- Reprimand bad behavior: The FBI says offenders often test their victims, sometimes pretending to accidentally touch them.
- “Don’t knock yourself out”: Mixing alcohol with sleeping pills and other medications can increase risk.
- Report incidents immediately: If an incident is reported before the plane lands, law enforcement may be able to meet the plane at the gate to begin an investigation.