Molested in the name of national security

Arms outstretched, palms up. Legs spread-eagle. Bare feet gripping a grimy tile floor.

I stare defiantly at the onlookers as hands caress my shoulders, back, arms, legs, buttocks, thighs, breasts. Hands. Of. A. Stranger.

I wonder: Is this really making anyone safer?

TSA patdownI barely slept the night before my flight. National Opt Out day was hours away and I wondered what it would be like to stand in line with hundreds of people trying to get home for Thanksgiving and proudly declare “I opt out.” Opt out of the backscatter scanner screening technology that captures a full-on naked picture of passengers, that is. Opt out of the potentially harmful and definitely un-monitored radiation. Opt out of mindlessly letting the government conduct a search of person and property without cause. And opt into having my body groped by a stranger, all in the name of national security.

Turns out, I escaped that moment for another five months. But it never left my flying frame of reference. With every flight out of Phoenix Sky Harbor–a bi-weekly event for me–I wondered if my next trip would be “the one.” Would it be like the horror stories I’ve read and heard from passengers? Would, like Wil Wheaton, I feel humiliated, violated, angry?

Like Wheaton, it was an LAX Transportation Safety Administration employee who molested me. I say “molested” to reflect Merriam’s first definition “to annoy, disturb or persecute.” Had I not recently survived Southwest Flight 812 (see here for details), I think I may have reacted more dramatically. I told Mr. T it wasn’t that bad, that the woman was very professional, funny, communicated well, was efficient about it, and did not “meet resistance,” a vague term that means touch my vagina. It wasn’t fun, mind you, but it wasn’t the horrific experience I envisioned for five months.

But then I saw this story about a six-year-old getting a pat-down and I re-read Wheaton’s commentary and I lost it. Although my experience wasn’t traumatic per se, the idea that we as an American people are giving up basic freedoms and allowing invasive searches without question is ludicrous. That we justify the groping of CHILDREN is abhorrent. That we must choose between molestation and naked scanning as a condition of flight is disheartening to say the least. And it would be one thing if these measures actually increased safety in any way, but they don’t. They contribute to the production of security, a performance that we all–passengers and employees–willingly take part in while knowing that it is just a charade. I don’t get it.

I don’t know what to do quite yet, but as this topic will likely emerge in my dissertation project, I will keep you posted on ideas. In the mean time, I would love to know about your experiences with TSA screenings and airport security. Bothered? Incensed? Couldn’t care less?


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