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Airlines may have to report incidents of sexual harassment and assault to the federal government each year.
Lawmakers on Thursday proposed legislation that would require the Department of Transportation to collect data on incidents of sexual harassment and assault from airlines, rail and bus companies.
Flight attendants have reported "rampant" sexual harassment in their field and have pushed airlines and lawmakers to issue procedures for handling those cases.
Close to 70 percent of respondents in a recent survey by the Association of Flight Attendants, the world's biggest flight attendant union, said they had experienced sexual harassment over the course of their careers. The union represents some 50,000 flight attendants across airlines including United and Alaska.
The bill, called the "Stop Sexual Assault and Harassment in Transportation Act," would also require transportation providers to issue policies for how passengers can report sexual assault and harassment, and what employees will do about it. The bill, introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., proposes these companies also have a formal anti-sexual harassment and assault policy, and state it on websites and other places.
Employees in the aviation industry are uniquely challenged because law enforcement is often out of reach during a flight.
"We often get reports of passengers physically touching flight attendants in inappropriate ways and passengers touching other passengers in ways that can only be considered abusive," Abby Alconcher, who works in the employee assistance program at the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said in a statement. The union represents some 26,000 flight attendants at American Airlines.
"On our international flights, we have special problems reporting incidents to authorities abroad, where the laws and enforcement of those laws can be very complex," Alconcher said. "These new guidelines and federal requirements are much needed and will help make the skies safer."