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In 2013 America, the airport should be the last place I would expect to be sexually assaulted. But I was, and it happens every day. What’s worse is the perpetrators almost always go unchecked and unpunished. How do these violations can take place in public? Easy, these heinous acts are being performed by TSA agents, the very people who are supposed to protect our security during travel.
It happened on my way to spend the Christmas holidays with my then-boyfriend who, in 2010, was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas. At Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport, I was pulled aside by TSA to have my hands swabbed for explosive materials residue. At the time I felt violated, but was already in a hurry for my flight, so thought little of it. I mean, they were just protecting the public’s safety, right? Of course TSA found nothing and I made it to my plane on time, allowing me to spend the holidays doing typical things a couple might do during the holiday season; visiting family in Texas and Mississippi, road tripping to New Orleans for New Years eve, and then returning to Kansas where I would catch a flight back to Wisconsin. The entire trip had gone off without a hitch, that is, until the time came for my return flight from Kansas City to Milwaukee.
Flying isn’t usually my first-choice method of travel, but I’m familiar with airport security procedures. In order to save time and fulfill my civic duty to safety, I pack according to regulations, wear easily removable shoes and hold off on wearing a belt until after I’ve made it through the security checkpoints. After all, none of us really want to be “that guy” holding up the line for everyone else… but even this couldn’t protect me from what was about to happen.
I’d never been through the body scanner before, as none of the airports I’d previously flown out of utilized them at the time. The idea made me uncomfortable, but on this evening in Kansas City, I figured it would be easier to skirt my own better judgment in the name of expedience and convenience, in the name of making it to my flight on time. I stepped through the scanner. Already feeling slightly violated, knowing the agents operating the machine were able to see every intimate part of my form, I went along with the process. An uneasy feeling overwhelmed me, I could feel my cheeks flush with embarrassment because total strangers now knew what I looked like naked. However, I’m a patriot like anyone else and I certainly didn’t want to cause a commotion. After all, this would only hold me up even longer from making it to my gate. But merely seeing my body completely indisposed apparently wasn’t enough for TSA.
After the scan, I was asked to step aside to be both wanded and patted down. At this point, I knew their measures were excessive – it seemed as if the agents were getting some sick sense of pleasure out of my humiliation; like they saw me coming in line and targeted me for a “top to bottom” search. Of course, their violations of my body turned up nothing suspect, but they still weren’t satisfied. To quell their suspicions, I was forced to announce in front of a long line of travelers and multiple TSA agents I have nipple piercings, so the agents might be able to make sense of whatever had “alerted” them in the first place. In all of my life, I have to say I have rarely experienced an occasion where I felt so completely violated as I did then. I am a victim of sexual assault and this conjured feelings in me were all too familiar.
One never forgets how it feels to have their most personal spaces intruded upon by a stranger. I felt helpless to the situation. The agents had all the power and I knew any attempt to stand up for myself and voice my severe discomfort would only result in more negative consequences on my part.
“One never forgets how it feels to have their most personal spaces intruded upon by a stranger. I felt helpless to the situation. The agents had all the power and I knew any attempt to stand up for myself and voice my severe discomfort would only result in more negative consequences on my part.”
I understand, TSA employees are “doing their job” and their goal is to “protect public safety,” but honestly I gathered none of this from what I experienced that night.
I do, in fact, have nipple piercings, but I absolutely cannot see how that fact warrants the unreasonable measures taken against me in the airport, nor how my piercings may possibly qualify me as a potential terror threat. In fact, the idea I would plot to use my nipples as weapons of mass destruction is absolutely ludicrous! I love them, or else I wouldn’t have had them pierced in the first place! However, I also consider my piercings to be a very personal attribute of my body – something that is for me and whomever I CHOOSE to share them with.
What’s worse is airport security is designed to take advantage of unwitting prey. Any regular traveler knows while we all try our best to show up early for our flights, this isn’t always possible, so many of us end up with a limited amount of time to get through security before the scheduled boarding time. I believe there are, in fact, despicable excuses for human beings who are aware of this and they remind themselves with pride when they don the TSA uniform. They have power and you don’t. If they call you a terror suspect, your life becomes an inconvenient hell to say very least, but even worse you could find yourself locked up in Gitmo with your face plastered all over CNN, for a crime you did not commit. Or even worse, you may simply not be heard from again. Do I believe TSA agents know they have this power and exercise it regularly? You’re damn right, I do!
Just recently, blogger Amy Alkon was violated in a similar fashion. After refusing to go through the body scan, she was patted down by a TSA agent who took it too far. During the search, the officer penetrated Alkon’s labia and vagina not once, but 4 times. When she declared her rape both vocally and on her blog, she was met with a defamation lawsuit from the TSA officer, Thedala Magee and her attorney. Since when did standing up for your rights become a reasonable basis for a defamation lawsuit?
In retrospect, I should have done or said more, but isn’t that the typical feeling a person experiences after being violated? We think to ourselves, I could have done more to prevent this, it was somehow my fault it happened. This was not my fault, nor is it any victim’s. The responsibility lies solely in the hands of TSA and those they answer to.
When did any of this become a norm we all are supposed to quietly accept with our heads down? I remember just over a decade ago things weren’t this way. I was born in 1987 and I feel like my generation is the last to have a an inkling of what true freedom is like. I clearly remember the 90’s and I can claim with certainty America did not function as a police-state during that time. It wasn’t perfect either, but it certainly wasn’t this. I flew on airplanes as a child and never could have imagined the day when airport personnel would be allowed to so intrusively frisk my body. It reminds me of visiting someone in prison actually. If you’ve ever done it, you know they give you a thorough inspection, to say the least.
What’s more, is I feel awful for my niece and nephews, who have this as a starting point in their lives. How much worse will it get and how much further will it go? Will my nieces one day be forced to strip in front of everyone at an airport or even worse, taken to some back room where God knows what might happen? I’m afraid they will never know true freedom, and that is simply unfair to them.
As children, we are taught to respect and obey authority, but as we’ve learned, positions of authority are abused far too often. By allowing this to continue we are supporting TSA’s attempt to spifflicate our dignity and rights, chipping away at them a piece at a time. It sends a clear message on their part to let us citizens know if we stand up for our Constitutional rights and question their authority, they will violate them anyhow and strip us of our dignity by means of assault and humiliation, all while facing no accountability for their actions.
Look at the case of Texas state trooper Kelley Helleson,who performed cavity searches of two women on the side of the highway. Her actions were inappropriate and unlawful, yet she felt justified in taking them. Watching my rights and freedoms being slowly stripped away over the last decade and a half is exactly why I intend to move to another country as soon as possible. I realize there are much worse places on Earth I could be, but really all I’m seeking is freedom, True Freedom.