Federal prosecutors have charged two men in separate sexual assaults of women on board airplanes flying to Seattle.
Babak Rezapour, 41, and Nicholas Matthew Stevens, 37, were arrested on charges of abusive sexual contact aboard an aircraft in incidents from earlier this year, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Western District of Washington said in a statement on Thursday.
The charges come amid a rise in sexual assaults reported on airplanes.
“Reports of sexual assaults on aircraft are increasing, and we want the public to know these assaults are federal crimes and will be investigated and prosecuted consistent with the law,” U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes said. “We urge the flying public to report assaults to airline personnel and law enforcement and assist victims who need help. The skies will be safer for all of us.”
Rezapour is accused of sexually assaulting a passenger who was asleep on a Norwegian Air flight from London to Seattle in January. The woman, who had taken a prescribed anti-anxiety pill and drank a glass of wine, had accepted a second glass of wine from Rezapour, prosecutors said. After becoming “unusually sleepy,” the woman woke up to find him sexually assaulting her, using his jacket to mar what he was doing.
In the second arrest, Stevens is accused of assaulting a woman on an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Seattle. According to prosecutors, Stevens harassed a woman and later grabbed her thigh and breast.
Both Rezapour and Stevens will appear in U.S. District Court in Seattle. Prosecutors said the punishment for abusive sexual contact on an aircraft is up to two years in prison.
The FBI warned airplane passengers earlier this year that sexual assaults aboard airplanes were on the rise.
“We are seeing more reports of in-flight sexual assault than ever before,” FBI special agent David Gates said in an April statement.