A Female Passenger Was Allegedly Sexually Assaulted on a Southwest Flight

Sep 25, 2018

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Reports of sexual harassment and assault on US commercial flights keep pouring in this year.

Add to the list an incident on a Southwest flight Sunday night from Houston to Nashville. Court documents state that the unidentified female passenger briefly spoke to the man sitting next to her, Alfredo Vela IV, who she did not know before the flight. She then fell asleep in her seat, Dallas News reports.

An unspecified amount of time later, the woman was awakened by Vela, 30, rubbing her back with his hand. He also touched her inner thigh, her breast and tried to put his hand up her shirt, the woman told law enforcement officials. According to the documents, the woman said she “froze in fear” during the incident. She later informed flight attendants who requested law enforcement meet the flight at its gate when it landed in Nashville at 9:30pm.

Vela was then arrested at the Nashville Airport. The Houston resident was taken to Davidson County Jail and was charged with sexual battery. He posted the $5,000 bail on Monday morning.

The incident is the latest in a string of similar assaults on commercial flights. The FBI said in June that reports of mid-flight sexual assault are rising at “an alarming rate,” spiking 66% from 2014 to 2017, but the national law enforcement agency “isn’t sure why.” In 2017, the bureau opened 63 in-flight sexual assault cases, compared to just 38 in 2014. “These acts are felonies, which can land an offender in prison for 10 years — or, if aggravated — to life,” Assistant Special Agent Brian Nadeau said.

One perpetrator is facing a possible life sentence for an in-flight sexual assault on a Spirit Airlines flight in January. Both Delta and United are facing lawsuits from passengers who were sexually assaulted on board flights but say those airlines did not do enough in response to sexual attacks from male passengers.

Featured image by Gades Photography on Unsplash.

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