A reader wrote to TSA News with the story of his assault at the hands of a TSA agent at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on Sunday, June 24th. After verifying his identity, we agreed to tell his story but keep his name private.
Although many people, including TSA News writers Sommer Gentry, Amy Alkon, and Wendy Thomson, have written account of their assaults using their real names, many thousands more prefer to remain anonymous, either because they’re afraid of retaliation by the TSA, afraid of being ridiculed in public — an unconscionable but common practice, as other victims of sexual assault can attest — or simply because that’s their choice. We respect that choice.
Here is our reader’s story, in his own words, in its entirety (bolding mine):
When I approached the security area, I emptied my pocket, took off my shoes and hat, and put everything on the conveyer belt. I was wearing nothing but a tight-fitting T-shirt, a pair of tight-fitting bermuda shorts, and socks. They didn’t have the naked-image x-ray machines at this security checkpoint, just the old-school metal detectors. So I walked through the machine. I’m an experienced traveler, and I knew that there was nothing on my person that would beep. No beep. I kept walking, when suddenly I heard the machine beep, about 2-3 seconds late. I looked back at the machine. A small green bulb was burning. “Oh,” exclaimed the female TSA agent standing in front of me, “a random check.” I asked her what the problem was; she repeated that it was a random check and then called over some guy hunched over a desk.
Now, I have never seen a machine choose a “random” passenger for a security check before. I don’t even know if that would be legal or illegal. But I had my doubts as to how random the check was. I looked all around me, and continued to observe for the next 5 minutes — no one else was randomly chosen by any of the 4-5 machines in that security area. I also observed that everyone else in line behind me was either white or black. I am a brown-skinned man of mixed race (half-Indian and half-white American), and I sport a beard and long black hair. I have been mistaken for Middle Eastern many times before (and I was consistently given special security treatment in the years following 9-11). So I have serious doubts I was chosen “randomly.” My hunch is that someone was watching a TV screen and pressed a button that triggered the machine to beep. It may even have been the same man that was hunched over the desk, and was called by the female TSA agent to search me. I couldn’t see what was at the desk he was hunched over, but it could have been a computer screen. At the time I thought I might have racially profiled, but now I suspect I may have been chosen for a more sinister reason.
The male TSA agent now told me that he would pat me down. He started explaining the things he was going to do. He said he would go into my waistband, into sensitive areas, and other things I can’t remember. Remember — the clothes I was wearing were very tight-fitting — think of a surfer about to hit the waves. There was no reason for a pat-down. From reading other stories on the web yesterday and today, I realize that this sort of aggressive pat-down seems to be the norm now. The man probably even followed procedure by telling me in detail the things he was going to do. (I realize that some people seem to have complained that the TSA has groped them without properly advising them beforehand. In my case, however, I feel as though it was worse to be told every step of the way where this man was going to put his hands.)
He talked, then groped, then talked again to tell me where he was grope next. I should have told him to stop, but I didn’t say anything. I think I was in shock. I felt violated, molested, assaulted, none of the words do justice to the feeling. And at least for me, the fact that he explained his every move made it much worse. It was like he was a sexual predator, planning his every move, telling me he was going to do it, and then doing it. I felt so powerless by the whole process. I have been aggressively searched when entering nightclubs before, including in the genital area, but the bouncers had always done it so fast and professionally, that I never felt violated. The TSA agent was a different story. I felet truly violated for the first time in my life.
First he groped from behind. One of the things he said was that he would run the back of his hand upwards until the “point of resistance.” I thought it would be a quick movement until his hand touched some part of my genitals. But no. It was a slow and deliberate movement. He ran the back of his hand up my leg until he touched my balls, but he didn’t stop there. He kept moving upward until his hand was firmly in between my inner thigh and my balls. The back of his hand was on my inner thigh; THE PALM OF HIS HAND WAS ON MY BALL. The he repeated the procedure on my other leg/thigh, on the other side of my balls.
Then he stood up and told me he was going to do the same thing from the front. Now came the worst part. He ran his hand up my thigh again, the same way. From the front. He touched the same inner thigh again, the same genitals again, he touched me in the EXACT SAME PLACE, for the second time. Why did he have to touch the same part of my genitals twice? Just because he was standing in front of me? Tell me, what difference did that make? That was the moment I felt that this man was a predator. I felt that he did it on purpose. I felt that he meant to molest me all along. He then let me go. I got my things and hurried away. What had happened began to sink in. I got angry. I got feelings of shame. I tried to play it off as a joke to my friends — they had seen the man pat me down, but hadn’t seen the details. It’s been haunting me, all of yesterday, and today.
That’s my story. I don’t know what to do, don’t know whether to file a complaint or not.
I urged him to file a formal complaint with the TSA, even though it’ll probably end up in the circular file, for his own satisfaction and in order to have a paper trail. If the TSA bothers to respond, it will be to say that “proper procedures were followed,” blah blah blah. Then our reader may choose to follow up or not. And if he continues to fly and if it happens again, he can continue that paper trail.
For the record, passengers can also contact the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, as well as a whole slew of other organizations, all of which are listed here.
This reader’s story comports with the thousands of other accounts that have been documented here, in news reports, and in personal stories and eyewitness testimony. His claim about the metal detector suddenly beeping well after he’d walked through has also been verified in other accounts, including at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., where TSA agents regularly kicked the metal detectors to make them beep when they wanted to grope certain women.
As I’ve indicated before, obviously not everyone has a reporter standing by to tell his/her story. Logic dictates that most people tell their stories only to family and friends; therefore, we will never know the true scope of the abuse the TSA is perpetrating.