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What You Can Do If You’re Sexually Harassed on a Plane or Public Transportation

Watching porn in public where other people are exposed to it without their consent can constitute as sexual harassment. Know what to do if this happens to you.

By September 26, 2022No Comments

Watching porn in public where other people are exposed to it without their consent can constitute sexual harassment.

In one 19-year-old’s experience of a flight passenger next to her looking up “plane porn,” it definitely was harassment.

According to media site the Daily Dot, the moment Melanie Schofield sat down in her plane aisle window seat, the passenger next to her began watching porn. More specifically, she saw he searched “sex on a plane” on his phone and began watching videos of people doing exactly that.

He immediately took up as much space as possible, it seemed like he was trying to touch me and make me uncomfortable,” Schofield said in a TikTok video about her experience. “He used both arm rests so that I didn’t have one and forced me to be squished against the side of the plane.”

Related: Porn Impacts Student Sexual Harassment in Schools—Here’s How

Schofield made the TikTok of the unwanted exposure to sexually explicit content and it went viral, amassing nearly 400,000 views and a lot of empathetic comments.

After telling the flight attendants about the man watching porn next her and how uncomfortable she felt, they didn’t know what to do. Eventually, they took her to first-class when she said she wanted to be moved away from the man.

For the entire flight, I was upset and scared. But I’m grateful the flight attendants helped me and that I was able to get out of an unsafe situation,” Schofield said.

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Yes, this was a form of sexual harassment

A number of people expressed support for her on TikTok. One comment noted, “He’s clearly fantasizing about having sex on a plane and she’s the closest female to him. It’s not a stretch to think he might be thinking of her.”

Another comment with more than 2,000 likes read, “The fact that you said something is so commendable because a situation like that [can make you] feel frozen and scared.”

Related: 99.3% of Surveyed Women and Girls Report Experiencing Sexual Violence

But not all commenters had Schofield’s back. Some “victim-blamed” her, told her that she was “overly sensitive” and “should not have looked at his phone.”

Regardless of what the commenters say, the fact remains the same: showing someone else porn without their consent is sexual harassment. In other more serious cases, showing porn to underage children is a form of child abuse.

It’s just that simple, yet similar incidents of sexual harassment on public transportation happen more frequently than many people might think.

It happens frequently on planes, too—so much so that United Airlines has started training employees on what to do in situations involving passengers watching porn onboard during flights.

Research points to sexual harassment on transit as a trend

An online survey launched in January 2018 by a nonprofit called Stop Street Harassment found that 81% of women and 43% of men had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime.

One report from the UK revealed that sexual assault cases on public transportation had almost increased by 50% in the four year span from 2015 to 2019. According to figures from the mayor of London’s office, there were 844 reported attacks on London underground trains from 2015-16. In 2019, that number rose to 1,206.

The issue isn’t just in the UK, it’s global.

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In Bogota, a 2014 survey revealed 86% of female respondents felt unsafe on public transport. In Mexico City, 64% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment while using transportation, and that number jumps to 90% in Sri Lanka when you look at the number of women and girls who have been sexually harassed on buses or trains at least once in their life.

There is similar data on numerous other countries, and the trend remains the same—unexpected, nonconsensual porn exposure happens wherever people and portable devices can be found.

Sexual harassment and assault can look different depending on the situation, but the fact remains that it’s unacceptable to show someone else porn nonconsensually, even if the porn-watcher didn’t mean to.

Related: How Porn Can Promote Sexual Violence

What can you do if you’re sexually harassed in public?

Sexual harassment offenses fall into three categories—verbal, non-verbal, and physical.

  • Verbal offenses include sexual comments, kissing noises, whistling, or even being asked to have sex.
  • Non-verbal harassment includes indecent exposure, being shown pornographic images, and stalking.
  • Physical harassment includes groping a person’s body or playing with her hair, unwanted kissing, as well as the most serious crimes of sexual assault and rape.

What can you do if any of this is happening/has happened to you? The New York Times has a helpful guide for if harassment happens in your workplace, while anti-harassment advocacy nonprofit Right To Be has a very helpful guide for public harassment intervention.

Become A Fighter

They recommend always listening to and trusting your instincts. If a situation feels off, it could be the beginning of something dangerous about to happen.

Some specific tips for how to respond to public harassment:

  • Reclaim your space: Set a boundary by telling the harasser to stop what they’re doing and to move away from you.
  • Move away: If you are sitting alone, find another person or group of people and stand/sit near them instead. Explain to them what happened, and ask them if you can be by them until your destination.
  • Ask for help: Tell people around you what you just experienced if they didn’t see it, and describe what the perpetrator looks like.
  • Record it: Tell people around you what you just experienced if they didn’t see it, and describe what the perpetrator looks like.

If you need help, consider reaching out to Better Brave, an organization that also works to combat sexual harassment, or RAINN, which provides information and support to victims and has a 24-hour confidential hotline for sexual harassment and assault.

Related: Real Cases of OnlyFans Content Creators Getting Stalked by Fans

Sexual assault or harassment is never acceptable, and no one deserves it. It can also happen to anyone, though statistics show women are victimized the most.

Sexual harassment isn’t sexy—it’s time we spread the word and speak up.

To learn more about how porn can promote sexual violence, click here to read this article.

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