A middle-aged priest. A 26-year-old woman. A registered sex offender.Three seemingly very different people with one thing in common: All three were accused of sexually assaulting fellow passengers on airplanes.
Even before Ms Jessica Leeds alleged that Mr Donald Trump had touched her inappropriately during a flight in 1979, many frequent fliers had concluded that increasingly cramped planes with fewer flight attendants walking the aisles seemed to embolden gropers.
“Sexual harassment and assault is happening on aircraft, and we believe it’s happening more often because of the conditions on board,” said Ms Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union. She cited cramped, confined spaces; alcohol and drugs; fewer flight attendants; and dark cabins on night flights as factors that likely embolden offenders.
Prosecutors said that the Reverend Marcelo De Jesumaria testified that he considered his touching his sleeping victim on a US Airways flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in 2014 “consensual because she did not reject his touches and he interpreted her silence, because she was asleep, as ‘coyness’.”
The woman said she awoke on the flight to feel De Jesumaria’s hand on the top of her leg and then on her breast, according to the US attorney’s office, Central District of California.
When De Jesumaria relaxed his grip, the victim went to the bathroom and used the call button to summon a flight attendant.
The flight crew reseated him between two male passengers, and law enforcement was waiting when the plane landed in Los Angeles.
De Jesumaria, 47, who previously served in the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, California, was sentenced to six months in prison and six months of home confinement after being convicted of abusive sexual contact.
De Jesumaria had not been seated next to his victim initially but switched seats by asking a flight attendant if he could “sit next to his wife”.
Heidi Anne McKinney, 26, was charged with touching another woman on the thigh and groin during an Alaska Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Portland on May 8 this year.
In another case, according to a criminal complaint filed in US District Court in New Jersey, a woman allegedly assaulted by Yoel Oberlander on an overnight El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Newark on May 29 was seated between him and her mother when he began to grope her. She kept repositioning herself to shake his hand off her hand, thigh and breast. It wasn’t until her mother awoke that she asked her to switch seats, and she eventually reported to the crew what had taken place.