What would you do if you were sexually assaulted on a plane? It’s not something many of us would have considered as we boarded our last overseas flight, but as Mamamia found out, it is worth knowing your rights. As with most international affairs, things can get complicated.
To learn what country’s authority investigates when someone is assaulted on an international flight, we spoke to aviation law expert Rowan Kimber, who tells Mamamia that there were four factors at play.
How the crime will be investigated will depend on: the country of origin, the destination, in which country the airline is based and when the assault is reported.
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“You’ve got multiple different laws that come in to play. Whichever country the aircraft is registered to, their rules generally apply,” Kimber, who is also a pilot, says.
“For instance, Australia’s criminal code states that the criminal code will apply in each: Australia, or Australia’s territory, or an Australian registered ship or an Australian registered aircraft. Most jurisdictions have the same thing.
“If you’re on a Qantas aircraft, it doesn’t matter where it is throughout its journey, the Australian federal law will apply.”
However, Kimber adds that where the assault is reported can still be a crucial factor, as the country of departure or arrival’s local laws still might apply – depending on what stage of the journey you are at.
“Say it was an aircraft going from LA back to Sydney, if the aircraft takes off then it’s within the Californian territory, Californian law is going to apply.”
As the flight makes its way over international waters, “for the most part” Australia’s law will apply, Kimber adds. And when the plane’s about to land back in Sydney? Then, NSW and federal law will apply.
“On an aircraft, you do have laws. It’s not a lawless territory over international waters. That sort of thing doesn’t exist.”
Flying over Australia and knowing AFP will respond is one good reason to report an assault as soon as it happens, but Kimber says there are other advantages to reporting the assault immediately.
“When you report something to the cabin crew, everything gets recorded, everything gets logged.”
“Flight crew have the power to arrest people and by reporting it to the flight crew, depending on what the incident is, they can actually do something about it. It also gives them a time and a place for it.
“Always go to your cabin crew. They’re the number one point of call when it happens. They’ll help report it to police, but when you land report it to police straight away.”
Notifying cabin crew at the “earliest opportunity” is also the first thing Australia’s Federal Police recommends.
“The victim of crime should report the matter to authorities at the earliest opportunity as it is essential to identify potential witnesses, preserve evidence and apprehend the suspect or offender,” an AFP spokesperson tells Mamamia.