Tia Jackson wasn’t long from landing. A 22-year-old student at Eastern Michigan University, Jackson was on a Spirit Airlines flight from Atlanta to Detroit that had been uneventful. Until, while sleeping in her middle seat, a male passenger sexually assaulted her, she says.
While federal authorities are investigating the alleged assault, Jackson has taken issue with the way Spirit Airlines handled the incident, which she described as “a slap in the face” to The Washington Post.
Jackson says the assault happened last Tuesday as she was sleeping against her friend, who was sat in the window seat next to her. In the aisle seat was a man who had been fidgeting the entire flight, she told People Magazine. Her back was exposed to the man as she slept, and when she first felt him brush against her she thought it was accidental, and pulled in closer to her friend to give him some room.
“When he noticed I moved away, he slid his hands in my pants and then he touched my thigh and then part of my butt,” Jackson told People. She further alleged that the man was “pleasuring himself” underneath a coat he had placed on his lap.
Jackson, who said she was sexually assaulted in high school, responded immediately to the touching, yelling at the man to get off her and pressing the call button to alert flight attendants.
When the attendants arrived, Jackson explained what happened and asked for the man to be moved. Instead, Jackson was asked if she could relocate to a different seat—a request that she found unfathomable. Not only did she not want to leave her friend, but she felt as though she were being treated like the problem.
“It was embarrassing—I’m telling you this awful thing that happened and you basically allowed it to happen,” Jackson told the Post. She refused to leave her seat, and according to Jackson, when the plane landed, the man was able to just stroll off the plane.
“The police should’ve been called, and nobody should’ve left the plane until the police came,” she said.
In a statement shared with multiple outlets last week, Spirit Airlines defended their flight crew’s “quick and professional assistance to address the situation,” explaining that Jackson had been asked to move so that the man who allegedly groped her would not be seated next to anyone—rather than moving him and placing him next to another person.
“Our flight attendants on board that flight learned of the alleged incident 18 minutes prior to landing when the guest pressed the call button and received immediate attention,” wrote an airline spokesperson. “Once she told the flight attendant who came to her seat, the flight attendant directed her to a different seat. The cabin crew wanted to move her, as opposed to him, because the move would have left him with an empty seat on one side and an aisle on the other.
“By the time the guest declined to move, landing was imminent and everyone had to be seated as required by federal regulation,” law enforcement continued. “Law enforcement began its investigation immediately after the flight arrived.”
An FBI spokeswoman that an investigation into the alleged assault is underway, but Jackson told the Post she feels “robbed...of the justice I could’ve gotten right there and then.” The man who allegedly groped her, as well as passengers who may have witnessed him and his behavior, deplaned before Jackson could report the incident to a gate agent.
“He needs to be held responsible. He is a predator. He displays predatory behavior. Who knows who else he has done this to,” Jackson told CNN. “I don’t want anyone else to ever have to fall victim to him.”