Two male passengers on separate flights to Seattle recently admitted to sexually abusing female passengers, and a third suspect was accused of groping a teen sitting next to him. 

All three federal cases involve different suspects and survivors but are part of “an alarming increase in sexual abuse cases aboard aircraft,” said Tessa Gorman, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington.

From 2019 to 2021, there was a 25% increase in investigations of sexual misconduct on planes, according to the FBI.

In 2018, there were 27 sexual misconduct investigations on planes, which spiked to 90 in 2022 and 63 in 2023, as of August 2023, according to the most recent FBI stats. 

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Jack Roberson, 69, and Duane Brick, 53, pleaded guilty to simple assault and abusive sexual contact, respectively, in their federal cases in early March. 

Roberson admitted in court to rubbing a 15-year-old passenger’s thighs and reaching under her skirt during a 2023 flight from Atlanta to Seattle

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The survivor told her parents, and Roberson was arrested when they landed. He is scheduled to be sentenced in June and faces up to a year in prison. 

In a separate case, Brick admitted to forcing a sleeping woman’s hand on his crotch and grabbing her chest under her shirt during a March 2023 flight from Phoenix to Seattle. 

Brick pleaded guilty to abusive sexual conduct and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 10, when he faces up to two years in prison.

A third case came to light in mid-February during a flight from Emirates to Seattle, where a man identified as Abhinav Kumar was charged with abusive sexual contact with a teenage girl sitting next to him. 

He pleaded not guilty on Friday, and his trial is scheduled for May 6. 

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“The Western District of Washington continues to see an alarming increase in sexual abuse cases aboard aircraft,” Gorman said in a statement. 

“Last August we emphasized that we have zero tolerance for such assaults. Sadly, we continue to learn of new allegations and are investigating and charging those cases.”

Gorman is referring to a press statement that highlighted four cases, including Brick’s and Roberson’s cases, to shine a light on the spike of in-flight sex crimes against female passengers since the pandemic ended. 

Mary Ellen Stone, then-CEO of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, said in the federal prosecutor’s August 2023 press release that data shows young people are at highest risk of sexual assault – females between 16 and 19 years old are four times more likely than the general population to be victimized. 

Yet, young victims are the least likely to speak up for fear of escalating bad behavior or causing trouble, Stone said. 

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“It is imperative for people to understand those who commit these types of crimes aboard aircraft will be held accountable,” Richard A. Collodi, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Seattle field office, said in an August 2023 statement. 

“I’m concerned at the increase of these incidents and assure the traveling public the FBI and our partners will continue to investigate and prosecute any offender who victimizes someone on a plane.”