Rape survivor assaulted by TSA

At a travel chat forum called FlyerTalk, a member named “brennandunn” has posted a thread detailing his and his wife’s experience at the hands of the TSA in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  

He states that his wife is a survivor of sexual assault, an assault where she was threatened with death. I’ll let him tell the story:

Five years ago, she was violently sexually assaulted by three men and was threatened with death. She made it, and tried to bury it for three years. After nightmares, flashbacks, and cutting she told me everything two years ago, and since then has been seeing professional counseling and taking medication. The incident happened in FL, but we now live elsewhere. We were back in FL due to a death in the family – whenever we’re there, she’s always on edge (understandably). The security checkpoint had a backscatter and a metal detector active. I always opt-out, and unfortunately I was chosen to go through the metal detector instead of her. My wife was sent towards the backscatter, and told the TSO she didn’t want to go through that. I then overheard the TSO graphically describing that “they will need to touch your privates…” (I know TSOs routinely scare people into going through the nude-o-scopes.) That just about did it for my wife, and she started shaking, sweating, and ended up going through the backscatter.

But as many of us know and have been trying to tell people for years, just because you go through the scanner doesn’t mean that you won’t also be groped. That’s what happened here. The TSA deployed its magic word — “anomaly” — and demanded that the woman be pawed.

And then they discovered an “anomaly” in her bra, so she needed to be patted down on her breasts. This freaked her out even more. She asked for a private room and for me to be there, and it was obvious that this pissed off the female assist TSO. As she started shaking and sobbing in the room as the TSO began to touch her breasts, I gently touched her arm. Big mistake – the TSO yelled that I couldn’t touch her and that I’d need to go through screening again.

You see, showing compassion isn’t allowed. Touching your loved one as reassurance isn’t allowed. As this boy’s parents discovered, as this girl’s mother discovered, as this girl’s parents discovered.

And as countless other sexual assault survivors have discovered as well.

You can read the rest of the account at the link.

I will ask again the questions I have been asking for two years: why are people putting up with this? Why is this country putting up with this? Why are people who aren’t forced to fly still flying? And why are so many people, including journalists and politicians, making excuses for the abuse the TSA is perpetrating?

I’m still waiting for answers.

(Photo: addictinginfo.org)

  • pam

    Can someone recommend a lawyer in state of CA that has experience vs TSA? I was inappropriately patted down yesterday and I have had enough! It is on tape and of course TSA said I would not have access to that nor their findings.

    • pam, where in California?

      • pam

        Los Angeles, thank you!

        • Pam, I’ve sent out a request to our mailing list. Also, maybe another reader will see this and respond to you. In the meantime, here’s what one of our writers had to say:

          “She should send a written request demand for the video to the airport FSD and Operations Director via certified mail while she seeks counsel.
          As you know, there is a 30-day window on keeping the video, so getting this in writing should preserve the ability to pursue this in discovery.”

          “FSD” means “Federal Security Director.” Just be prepared for the airport and/or TSA to stonewall. They’re notoriously unhelpful. After all, if you got away with committing crimes whenever you wanted, would you be helpful?

          • TSAisTerrorism

            Just to help out a little here, this is my personal experience from a different airport. The TSA referred me to their FOIA office, which was completely worthless. They will automatically deny the request, and then demand you file an appeal. After you file the appeal, it will likely be approved, but then the information will never be provided and follow up requests will be ignored.

            They will also say they don’t have access to the tapes, that TSA doesn’t have the ability to view the video at all, and that the video is property of the airport who doesn’t share it with the TSA. Which is weird since there is a TV show about MIA where it is clear that TSA has its own video monitors. Whatever.

            So, this is what I did. As Lisa suggested, Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested to BOTH the airport authority and TSA’s FOIA office. For me, that request went through the airport’s general counsel, who denied the request for bizarre, stupid, and unrelated reasons.

            At the end of the day, it was my attorney who was able to get the video because he was personal friends with the airport’s general counsel.

            I don’t tell you any of this to discourage you, only to prepare you for what lies ahead. If you would like any moral support or help, Lisa has my email, and you can contact her through the “contact” tab above.

            But first thing’s first: while you are looking for an attorney (and be prepared for a number of them to NOT want the case), you MUST start the request process to show you are serious. Here is the information for TSA:


            Be prepared, they will send you back a form to complete stating they can’t process it without this form even though they don’t make the form available and you have provided the information they request on the website.

            The best contact information I can find for LAX:

            Barry Rondinella
            LAX Airport Director of Ops
            73333 World Way West 2nd Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90045
            [email protected]

            Good luck!

          • pam

            thank you so much. That is very helpful. I will send cert mail to LAX. At least the TSA manager acknowledged there is a video he would review. In fact he had me stand in front of one of the video cameras three times to help them identify me on the tape (this was in between the police officer telling me I should have hung around after the incident to watch the TSA agent pat down other passengers). I asked him if he was serious and wouldn’t that be the job of the TSA Supervisor who refused to take my complaint.

          • TSAisTerrorism

            It really is going down the rabbit hole with these “people”. You’re supposed to be ultimately responsible for everything they do, but you aren’t allowed to watch it, talk about it, protest it, or in any way know anything about it other than to shut up and take whatever they choose to dish out. And the police want nothing to do with it. But if you watch it, talk about it, protest it, or in any way know anything about it, the police will be the first to get in your business and threaten arrest.

            There are likely also reports that were filed by them, particularly if they took any of your information, so write a separate request for those. If you write a single FOIA request including both the reports and the video it will be summarily denied, and by the time you are able to know about it and resubmit your request the information will “no longer be available.”

            And why do you have to be easily identifiable on the video? You aren’t the one who committed the crime. Although in TSA’s world don’t be surprised if they use this tactic against you and attempt to levy a fine for testing/interfering with/attempting to circumvent the screening process. I know, it sounds strange. Remember: you are working with mental midgets here.

          • pam

            I will send this request today. Thank you for the direction! As well I will file a Freedom of Information Act request. I am going to the local police station this morning to file a report. The LAX police officers refused to take a report – told me it was a TSA matter. They said “unless there was sexual gratification it was not a crime”. I said that part of my reason to complain was that I think there was. The Sergeant replied, “You think?! This is not a police matter”. I can’t imagine what that type of encounter must feel like for victims of previous sexual assault. It was so shaming.

  • joentokyo

    Why do TSA agents commit these brutal acts? For the same reason dogs
    lick their privates, because they can. Why can TSA agents commit these
    brutal acts? Because Americans would rather allow some to be brutalized
    than all be made late to the gate. Moreover, the average American of
    late is scared shitless of any police authority, or in this case faux
    police with no authority other than the fact that politicians are afraid
    to challenge them.

  • The TSO is no better than the gestapo in nazi Germany. If we went to private security firms, we would have less government interference, more efficient security, and all of these scumbags who work for TSA would be back working at McDonalds. It would be a win win win situation =D

    • Lisa Simeone

      Daniel Brock, while I agree the TSA is Gestapo-eque, private security is no panacea. SFO has private security, and there are just as many horror stories coming out of there as anywhere else.

      Getting groped by a private sector goon is no better than getting groped by a public sector one. Private security is still overseen by the TSA and has to follow TSA rules.

      Get rid of the scanners, get rid of the gropes, make it illegal to touch anyone in any way without probable cause — meaning no TSA clerk could ever touch anyone because they’re not law enforcement officers — and go back to the days of walk-through metal detectors (WTMD) and occasional wanding. That’s it.

      That’s what we had for 50 years, until November 1, 2010, when the Reign of Molestation was implemented, and planes weren’t being blown out of the sky left and right.

  • Exactly what would people propose that these folks or any of us do? All the people ranting, would you wish the people to refuse / object and either not go on their trip or get arrested and deal with this in court? I’m honestly curious. I agree, people need to do something but what that is isn’t clear to me beyond writing government folks of various flavors which seems eminently useless. I opt’d out and got thoroughly groped twice… while my luggage was screened three times thru the x-ray and once by hand. They are definitely trying to keep folks from opt’ing out by doing this. When I’m flying, I can go early and decide to endure this indignity OR get irradiated… but I only fly when I need to… and right now, not flying is not a viable option. It will be later and I will use that approach. I’d really LOVE to have someone come up with something that made sense that we could actually do. This isn’t going to get better.

    • What you are doing is already better than nothing – to opt out is a visible sign of withdrawing your consent from this abusive nightmare. Thank you for doing that. I do also think it’s very important to write your Congressional representatives; in fact, I’ve even gone to meet with mine to tell them in person how traumatizing it was to be sexually assaulted by the TSA. I heard a congressional staffer say, “Every single member of Congress is hearing from their constituents about the TSA,” and that volume of opinion does make a difference. In the last year the tone of TSA hearings has become downright nasty and Chief Molester John Pistole is too afraid to show his pervert face after Rand Paul called him clueless.

      So – opt out and write to your government. And write letters to the editor and to your airlines and talk to your friends about this and choose to drive or take the train when possible and read our blog here at TSA News. No one tactic is going to produce an overnight victory, but keep fighting with us. Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.

    • ToriBlue

      I also advocate calling individual screeners our by name on social media. Google “Thedala Magee”. Name and shame.

  • TAPman

    Please don’t use the old TSA logo from when they were under the USDOT. I would like to hope that there would have been some sanity with a USDOT operated TSA unlike what we got with the USDHS one.

    • I was looking for a powerful graphic, didn’t even notice that it used an old logo. For anyone reading this who doesn’t already know, the TSA is part of the DHS — Department of Homeland Security — not DOT, Department of Transportation.

  • Your point makes sense, those heading to the airport are willing going into a situation with no options.
    Oddly a very early A.M. progressive radio host doesn’t mind the indignity at all, deriding those outraged as big babies, because he is addicted to weekend travel.

    The options to besides being searched like this, once flagged


    1. Leave the airport in violation of FAA regulations and then be sued.

    2. Refuse the search and be arrested and then searched, and then have to reschedule the flight and repeat.

    3. Kick the Transportation Molestation Station goon’s ass and be arrested with an absurd bail to post, with jail time likely.

    • Al Breeck, no, those aren’t the only options (and I’d love to know which “very early A.M. progressive radio host” you’re talking about).

      Take a look at Sommer Gentry’s post about standing up to the TSA and saying no. You can leave the airport:

      • Good then, since the incidents publicized “don’t touch my junk” involve charges filed at least, but the charges may have been dropped later.
        Bill Press would NEVER use the Reagan National airport out of D.C. as he heads to the beach in a few hours after his 6am – 9am Washington D.C. show that is also on Current TV..
        Not kidding, he literally stated his travel plans as I was typing.

    • Al,
      Like just about everything else these days, the issue of the TSA seems to have become politicized. I have heard several progressive commentators defend the TSA with the “shut up crybaby” argument. Around the time of the 2010 uproar over nudie scanners Chris Matthews on MSNBC opined that “it’s no big deal.”

      Meanwhile, the far right has merged TSA with a general Ombananized takeover of all liberties from medical care to religious freedom.

      (If I’m wrong about this schism I hope someone will correct me).

      I don’t get it. Maybe the left feels that they have been derided as weak on national defense for so long that they have to take a hard line on any security measure. Maybe they are simply defending Barack, on whose watch these egregious new procedures were implemented. All I know is that I am a proud progressive who also values his privacy and his liberties and I can’t understand why any thinking person can endorse the TSA’s procedures, which are both ineffective and invasive.

      • cjr001

        No, you’re not wrong about this schism. There’s only one Amendment the far right cares about (and it’s pretty easy to guess which one), and the rest of them can be thrown away with the thought that they’ll never miss them.

        • I’m going to make an appeal that we leave behind the false dichotomy of left/right, Dem/Rep, liberal/conservative, blah blah blah. Our overlords use that to divide us. We’re all in this together. Civil liberties are for all of us. And if we can unite behind this issue, so much the better.

  • Chris Cross

    The people of America are putting up with it because they are too passive and there is no outrage because there is too much fear in leaving the comfort zone. And the politicians either haven’t the slighest interest in doing anything about it or they are as powerless as the rest of us. Out president doesn’t give a damn either; he’s too busy working on his kill list.

    • Chris, bingo.

      Although the politicians are anything but powerless. They could put a stop to this tomorrow if they cared. But more of them and their family members have to get groped first.