Following is an account by a TSA News reader. She asked that she remain anonymous. After verifying her identity, we agreed. Informed readers will immediately recognize that her story accords with that of thousands of others, stories we’ve been documenting for years:
I am contacting you because I was subjected to a pat down in the Asheville airport before my flight to LaGuardia. I asked the worker why she couldn’t use a scanner (which I now have found is potentially harmful). I was told that the airport doesn’t have this equipment. Do you know if this is legal? I thought pat downs were used if the scanning was refused; I have never heard of not getting an alternative to getting a pat down.
I was told I was being given the pat down because of a lack of photo ID. I brought my birth certificate and other ID which were accepted by the initial checkpoint worker. He said now I was “cleared” and didn’t indicate I might be given the pat down. I find being touched by strangers incredibly upsetting and began to sob when I was told that I was going to be subjected to it. I revealed to the female worker that I had been sexually molested but she said I had no choice, other than leaving the airport. As I had to fly home from vacation to return to work and couldn’t afford to buy another ticket I felt I had no choice but to submit.
The other really upsetting thing is that at first I didn’t even know what was going on, as I didn’t know that pat downs were done on people just because they didn’t have photo ID. There was a lot of confusion and other passengers and workers talking and I guess I didn’t respond to the worker’s directions to “come this way” as fast as she would have liked, so she took my arm in her hand and pulled me, which I felt was a violation, as she could have just pointed what direction I should go.
Throughout this whole ordeal I was sobbing, but this seemed to have no effect on her. My husband insisted on accompanying me to the room where they were going to do the pat down, and he looked extremely distressed as he couldn’t do anything to stop them. The woman that did the pat down was at least neutral in how she addressed me, but her supervisor was horrible, and said she had to be there for the other woman’s “protection.” The supervisor said “it’s no big deal” which only made me cry harder, and then said, “it would have been over sooner if you had just stayed calm.” I consider that to be psychologically abusive as now I was having to go through something which was triggering for me while at the same time being told that it is my fault that I was crying.
I’m not sure what I could do about this incident, other than report it to the TSA, who I have heard usually don’t do anything about it. I guess I’m writing for your opinion about whether I could file against the airport for 4th amendment violations, or if there is any group of people who are writing letters to Congress, demonstrating, petitioning, or taking actions of other types. I do not want to feel like a victim, I want to do SOMETHING to feel more empowered.
As we’ve written till we’re blue in the face, scanners and gropes have little to nothing to do with each other. Even where there are scanners, even if you acquiesce to going through a scanner, that doesn’t mean that you won’t also be subjected to a grope. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. And again, TSA clerks routinely disregard official rules and make up their own on the spot. When you go through a TSA checkpoint, you are subject to the whims of the TSA workers on duty, no matter what those whims might be. Period.
I advised this woman to do what we’ve been advising all our readers to do for months now — submit her comment to the government during this public comment period that goes on until June 24th. You can do this by clicking the link in the upper-left-hand corner of every TSA News Blog page or just by clicking here. You can see what kinds of things your fellow citizens have already written here. As of my writing this, 4,069 public comments have been received, and 3,228 have been posted in the public docket.
I also urge people to copy their Congressional reps (even though said reps have been worthless so far) on their comments. You can also file a complaint with the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security. Frankly, I think that’s a waste of time, as we’ve written before, but at least you’ll have a paper trail and can say you tried.