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We Need to Talk About Sexual Harassment on Flights

Casually scrolling through my news feed, I came across an article about sexual harassment on a plane. I immediately widened my eyes. “It wasn’t just me!” I thought to myself. 

I clicked on the link to read an uncomfortable story about how a woman was sexually harassed on her first-ever flight. I was overwhelmed when reading the responses in the comments and following the trend on Twitter — of women from all over the world sharing their own stories of harassment on planes.

It was only a few years ago I was on an international flight, as a young solo female traveler, where I met a man traveling with his wife. I was stuck on the window seat right next to the man, with little room to move. He seemed friendly at first, but it didn’t take him long to decide the appropriate spot for his hand was my leg.

Every time I pushed his hand away, it would magically find its way back there within a few minutes.

It was a 16-hour flight.

And yes, his wife was sitting next to him the entire time.

It didn’t escalate beyond that, and as soon as I left the flight, I made sure I lost him pretty fast. But the experience stuck with me.

When I look back, sometimes, I can’t believe I didn’t say anything or try to move. I thought that’s what I would do, but in the moment I just froze. I didn’t want to be seen making “a big deal out of nothing” and kept telling myself it was a coincidence his hand kept moving, or it would be over soon. 

I thought it was such a freak occurrence. I didn’t even begin to realize it was a symptom of a bigger trend of sexual harassment and sexual assault on flights.

“What an odd place to harass women,” I had thought. “Surely these things only really happen in bars or hostels.”

Nope. This stuff happens just about everywhere.

The toll of stories like these is a big one. Firstly, sexual harassment can have a lasting impact on mental health. My mental health has certainly been affected by incidences of sexual harassment and assault, and the still ever-present stigma makes it even harder to talk about and move on from.

And secondly, stories like these are so common they highlight a scary trend of sexual harassment on travelers. During my travels, I continually heard new stories of sexual harassment, abuse, violence and even murder. Almost every female traveler I met had a story to tell.

It’s not only one person’s mental health that is threatened; it’s a whole movement of travelers that face long-lasting problems. Maybe men think they can get away with it because travelers come and go, leaving places quickly? Maybe they see travelers as easy targets? Maybe I’m just not aware of how often this kind of thing happens.

The one good that’s come out of these realizations is that I no longer feel like I’m carrying this burden alone. I no longer feel like I should ever have to endure harassment or give these men the benefit of the doubt. The more we talk and share, the more we see that situations like these are not OK. 

Now that we know there’s a problem, can we start to reverse this trend?

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay