She touched my junk!: A perilous “opt out” pat-down

Photo credit.

“I’d like to opt-out,” I said, repeating my familiar refrain to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer directing traffic to an advanced imaging scanner.

“You know it’s not an x-ray, right?” he replied, as if trying to convince me it was okay to step into the looming machine and put my hands up like a criminal good little passenger.

Well, I don’t care to be microwaved either, thank you, I thought while answering, “Yep” and waiting for an officer to answer his “female assist!” call.

The responding female agent, with salt and pepper hair parted down the middle and pulled back tightly, came to fetch me. She seemed in no hurry, languidly directing me to point out my belongings on the conveyor belt before carrying them to an available screening table. Curiously, she explained to me that she was going to test her robin’s egg blue latex gloves for explosives before and after my pat-down, something I’d never seen before. Apparently it’s her habit now after getting several false positives. During this time, I ask how long she’s been at her job–a decade–and if she likes it. Yes, she tells me. It pays the mortgage.

I wait patiently for her to ask me the typical questions. Have I had an advanced pat-down before? Yes. Do I have any sore or sensitive areas? No. Do I have any medical devices she should be aware of? No. Would I like a private screening? No.

After confirming that all sensitive areas–breasts and buttocks–will be cleared with the back of her hand, she begins.

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I stand, arms and legs spread-eagle. I feel gloved fingers brush hair from my collar before trailing down my spine, pressing into flesh which takes no effort as I am wearing filmy pink rayon. She “clears” the waistband of my trousers, fingers sweeping deftly against skin before brushing my buttocks intently with the back of her hand. Downwards, she caresses my legs firmly, before gliding up to meet “resistance.” I startle. Did she just touch my ladyparts from the back? An accident, assuredly.

Coming round to face me, she “clears” my collar again, her hands following the line of my draping cowl neck. I feel her fingers trace the contours of my breasts and grit my teeth. Only then does she use the back of her hands to sweep assertively between my breasts. Fingers probe my torso carefully, clearing my waistband from the front before sliding down my legs and coming up once again to meet “resistance.” Without a doubt, this woman has just touched my clitoris, a body part not even my gynecologist has ever attended to. I want to scream.

Instead, I wait for her slow work to conclude and when the beep tells me I am not harboring explosives, I move along, seething.

Now, I fly. A lot. And I have yet to enter a back scatter x-ray or millimeter wave scanner. I fly too much for another dose of radiation or more exposure to potentially harmful particles. As a result, over the last couple years, I’ve experienced more than 50 advanced pat-downs. That’s a lot of blue latex massages my friends. But NONE of them, not one has made me feel so utterly violated. I left the security area feeling exposed, angry, molested and wanting to complain to anyone who would listen.

But did I? No. I made smart ass comments on Twitter and Facebook, and until now, have kept my trap shut because for me, the airport is currently a research scene, not a place where I want to make a scene. But, as pointed out to me by a Twitter friend, don’t I have a responsibility to complain about that agent? Shouldn’t I do my best to make sure that this mortification doesn’t happen to other passengers, too?

Two seconds of e-research tells me that I can file a formal complaint with the TSA who will assign a specialist to review my issues and investigate. But investigate what? She said-she said? Maybe I will do better to contact the specific airport? Still thinking about it.

Until then, I’m counting this as “data,” and contemplating how I will feel during my next TSA encounters this Wednesday and Friday. Hrm.


Other travel-type posts:
– TSA Tales: Is that a salami in your purse, or are you just happy to see me?
– Molested in the name of national security
– For pete’s sake, be considerate: Shawna’s guide to airport/airplane etiquette

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