SEATTLE – Two men have been charged in separate cases with sexual abuse of women on commercial flights on the way to Seattle earlier this year, the cases, prosecutors said Thursday they hope will encourage victims and others to report such attacks.
“No one was getting on a plane — not a mother, daughter, sister, or son, or someone else — should have to endure what we claim happened in these cases,” Seattle Attorney V. S. Annette Hayes said at a press conference. “Aircraft are not a law-free zone.”
The suspects were identified as Babak Rezapour, 41, Van Nuys, California, and Nicholas Matthew Stevens, 37, of Anchorage, Alaska. Each room is in custody, and is expected to make initial court appearances in their home states in the coming days, prosecutors said.
They face up to two years in prison and may be required to register as a sex offender if convicted.
Court records if either had obtained an attorney.
The FBI says that he has seen a jump in reports of sexual violence cases on board of aircraft, especially since the #MeToo movement began to pay attention to the subject in the past year. The number of cases opened increased from 38 in 2014 to 63 last year, according to agency statistics.
The prosecutors said Rezapour repeatedly groped a 21-year-old woman as she slept during a Norwegian Air flight from London last January. Charging documents said the woman took a prescription anti-nausea and anti-anxiety drugs and drank a glass of wine. Later in the flight, Rezapour, who was sitting nearby with an empty seat between them and ordered her a second glass; she felt extremely unclear and had struggled to stay awake after drinking.
The victim repeatedly wake up to find Rezapour groping her under her bra, touching her genitals, or placing her hand on his exposed penis, which he had hidden under a jacket, the complaint said. Eventually she went to the back of the plane, where a member of the flight crew found her crouched down and crying.
Flight attendants reseated her in the front of the plane, and a member of the crew questioned Rezapour. Her asked if he could apologize to her, and when he was asked why he would have, he said that he may have accidentally kicked, the complaint said. The police met the aircraft on landing; Rezapour refused to have involved in a unwanted touch.
Tests on the woman’s clothing found Rezapour DNA, authorities said.
Stevens is charged with assaulting a 22-year-old woman on an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage in March. Prosecutors said he was sitting in an aisle seat, while she was in a window seat. When he asked if he could move into the middle and laid his head on her shoulder, she refused, she said, but he kept asking and she gave in and said: “What.”
After moving to the middle seat, he began a joke about the killing of people, high-fived her and gave her fist-bumps. Eventually, he started to grab her breasts and buttocks, prosecutors said. She removed his hand and told him to stop.
After the aircraft has landed, two other passengers, who observed some of his behaviour and urged her to report him, and they did it. An Alaska Airlines manager, found Stevens on a port, and they identified him as the man who assaulted her. He told the police that they were touching each other, the complaint said.
The complaints were filed under seal Aug. 22, after months of investigation and review for prosecution. They were made public on Thursday, following the men of the arrests.
The prosecutor of the V. S. and Jay Tab, the special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Seattle, said it is crucial for victims or witnesses to report such cases quickly because the passengers do not always sit in their assigned seats, which can make it difficult to identify suspects after the fact.