TSA’s Outrageous Insensitivity

by V

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you know that there’s even more backlash against the TSA’s tactics in keeping our airports safe. “Keeping us safe” sounds like a great thing to be doing. So, how could it be bad? Well, unfortunately, the TSA is taking things too far.

As of yet, many people haven’t had to contend with what many others have already had to endure. That is its outrageous insensitivity to people as human beings. The TSA is forcing people to decide between allowing an anonymous agent to see them naked on camera via their new scanners, or being molested by an “enhanced” pat-down. Many times in full view of the rest of the passengers waiting in line. And, even if you do opt to have the scanner take your naked picture, you are not necessarily exempt from the enhanced pat-downs. Many have gone through these things, then have been pulled aside anyway. Usually, because the scanner picked up something “odd.”

You might think that’s a good thing. After all, that’s what the scanners are for! Well, yes and no. They are used to find anything strange. And the pat-downs are used for the same purpose. However, the way that the TSA does this is increasingly insensitive to people with special needs and circumstances, and agents pretend to be oblivious to the problems they cause.

Such as the example of the man who was a bladder cancer survivor and had to wear a urostomy bag.

Something that the TSA likes to tout is that everyone has the option to take the pat-downs rather than the scanner, and everyone who opts for the pat-downs has the right to ask for a private room to have it done in. However, this man had to ask for that more than once. In fact, when he asked the first time the agents were rude enough to roll their eyes at each other and then had the gall to lie and tell him that they had nowhere to do a private pat-down.

Due to his medical condition, Sawyer asked to be screened in private. “One officer looked at another, rolled his eyes and said that they really didn’t have any place to take me,” said Sawyer.

Eventually, after he insisted, they miraculously found an empty, private office room to do the pat-down in. He repeatedly tried to tell them about his disability and the bag, but they refused to listen. He also tried to tell them, during the pat-down, that they were about to hit the actual seal of the bag and that if they did, it would break the sensitive seal. They did not listen. They hit the seal. The seal broke. Urine all over him. They pretended not to notice. Then told him he could go afterward, not offering to help or offering any apology for the accident whatsoever. They just pretended it didn’t happen. He had to walk through the airport with urine all over him after that and an obvious wet spot.

“One agent watched as the other used his flat hand to go slowly down my chest. I tried to warn him that he would hit the bag and break the seal on my bag, but he ignored me. Sure enough, the seal was broken and urine started dribbling down my shirt and my leg and into my pants.”

The security officer finished the pat-down, tested the gloves for any trace of explosives and then, Sawyer said, “He told me I could go. They never apologized. They never offered to help. They acted like they hadn’t seen what happened. But I know they saw it because I had a wet mark.”

Humiliated, upset and wet, Sawyer said he had to walk through the airport soaked in urine, board his plane and wait until after takeoff before he could clean up.

Isn’t that reassuring and helpful of them? Yeah, I didn’t think so, either.

How many people have had bladder cancer who might suffer a similar fate?

Or we could talk about the women who have had breast cancer, and have had a mastectomy. Going through the scanners doesn’t make a difference for them, either. The scanner will pick up something weird with the prosthetic if they are wearing one or more. They will pull you aside for the enhanced pat-down, anyway. And in full view of everyone, you might find yourself being forced to remove your prosthesis, and/or allowing the agents to fondle your prosthetic while it is in your bra.

The TSA screener “put her full hand on my breast and said, ‘What is this?’ ” Bossi told the station. “And I said, ‘It’s my prosthesis because I’ve had breast cancer.’ And she said, ‘Well, you’ll need to show me that.’ “

How many women have had mastectomies due to breast cancer?  How many of those women wear prostheses? How many of these women travel? Hm.

“I asked the supervisor if she realized that there are 3 million women who have had breast cancer in the U.S., many of whom wear breast prostheses. Will each of us now have to undergo this humiliating, time-consuming routine every time we pass through one of these new body scanners?” she said in an e-mail to msnbc.com.

It should be noted that in this article there are three women who are speaking out about this, and these two quotes are from two different women.

Marlene McCarthy of Rhode Island said she went through the body scanner and was told by a TSA agent to step aside. In “full view of everyone,” McCarthy said in an e-mail, the agent “immediately put the back of her hand on my right side chest and I explained I wore a prosthesis.

“Then, she put her full hands … one on top and one on the bottom of my ‘breast’ and moved the prosthesis left, right, up, down and said ‘OK.’ I was so humiliated.

Is a third woman’s account.

Interestingly enough, this woman went to complain and was told that apparently, there is no training involved for the agents involving potential passengers with prostheses.

“I went to the desk area and complained,” McCarthy wrote. “The woman there was very nice and I asked her if the training included an understanding of how prosthetics are captured on the scanner and told her the pat-down is embarrassing. She said, ‘We have never even had that discussion and I do the training for the TSA employees here, following the standard manual provided.’ She said she will bring it up at their next meeting.”

Considering how many people in the US alone live with prosthetics of some sort, this is surprising. Considering how common breast cancer is, I would be surprised if we didn’t find out about more such situations involving women with mastectomy prosthetics.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers. The chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in a woman’s life is a little less than 1 in 8 (12%).

The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates for breast cancer in the United States are for 2010:

  • About 207,090 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
  • About 54,010 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
  • About 39,840 women will die from breast cancer

Another woman in the same article who has a pacemaker had a similarly bad experience when she had to go through these procedures.

Sharon Kiss, 66, has a pacemaker, but also has to fly often for her work.

“During a recent enhanced pat-down, a screener cupped my breasts and felt my genitals,” she said in an e-mail to msnbc.com “To ‘clear my waistband’ she put her hands down my pants and groped for the waistband of my underwear.

“I expressed humiliation and was told ‘You have the choice not to fly.’ “

Isn’t that sweet of that TSA agent? You get the choice between being fondled and groped, having a naked picture taken of yourself, or you could always just not fly if you dislike your civil rights being abused or denied you in such a humiliating fashion. But, don’t complain.

The remark infuriated Kiss, who lives in Mendocino, Calif. “Extrapolate this to we should not provide curb cuts and ramps for people confined to wheelchairs because they can choose to stay home … This a violation of civil rights. And because I have a disability, I should not be subjected to what is government-sanctioned sexual assault in order to board a plane.”

Exactly, Ms. Kiss. This sort of mentality when it comes to this is not any different than extending it to other areas of our lives where we would not stand for such blatantly rude nonsense. We wouldn’t tolerate it then, and we shouldn’t tolerate it now.

Or, we could talk about the rape survivor who was forced to choose between allowing the scanner to see her and take a picture of her naked, or endure the enhanced pat-down, which felt to her as if she was being molested and brought back such painful, potent memories that now she is too afraid to fly again?

Since Celeste didn’t agree to go through the scanner, the enhanced pat down began.  “He started at one leg and then ran his hand up to my crotch.  He cupped and patted my crotch with his palm.  Other flyers were watching this happen to me. At that point I closed my eyes and started praying to the Goddess for strength.  He also cupped and then squeezed my breasts.  That wasn’t the worst part.  He touched my face, he touched my hair, stroking me.  That’s when I started crying.  It was so intimate, so horrible.  I feel like I was being raped.  There’s no way I can fly again.  I can’t do it.”

Why did they not ask her if she wanted to do this in private? Why were male agents the ones patting her down? Female agents are supposed to be patting down female passengers. And nobody noticed that she was having some sort of mental breakdown? Ridiculous. They noticed. They knew they were doing things they should not be doing. There was no excuse for it, except for the fact that they were hoping she would serve as an example to the others standing in line and watching her.

Coming back from Chicago, Celeste, like increasing numbers of travelers, was forced to make a difficult choice – either allow strangers to see her naked or allow strangers to touch and squeeze her breasts and groin in full view of other travels and TSA agents.  “This was a nightmare come to life,” Celeste says, “I said I didn’t want them to see me naked and the agent started yelling Opt out- we have an opt here.  Another agent took me aside and said they would have to pat me down.  He told me he was going to touch my genitals and asked if I wouldn’t rather just go through the scanner, that it would be less humiliating for me.  I was in shock.  I couldn’t believe this was happening.  I kept saying I don’t want any of this to happen.  I was whispering please don’t do this, please, please.”

This works as a great intimidation tactic to the other people in line who might be watching and thinking that they will opt out of the scanners, despite the fact that even that is not necessarily going to save you from getting the enhanced pat-downs. The article says that there were many in line who saw what happened to this woman and obviously decided that they were not going to allow themselves or their children to be touched in such a manner. Just what the TSA agents wanted.

She said that fellow travelers, after seeing what happened to her, were more willing to go through the full body scanner.  She noticed some, with small children, left the security line, refusing to put their children through the scanner or allow an adult to touch them that way.

More proof its used as an intimidation tactic? Well…in the lines that don’t have those scanners? You don’t have to go through the new, enhanced pat-downs. Just the regular, much less invasive pat-downs. And just in case anyone was believing it when they say that this doesn’t happen to children, here’s a YouTube video, shot by someone who saw a small boy strip-searched in full view of everyone in the airport.

How many women are raped each year, and how many of these women travel? How many of them will be, or have already been, forced to endure the same choice and the same pain?

17.7 million American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape.

Emphasis theirs. But, considering this, how many women must eventually end up having similar experiences to this woman’s? Its ridiculous, they should not have to.

The ACLU already has more complaints than you might expect as they decide whether and when to bring a lawsuit.

The addition of body scanners was mandated by lawmakers earlier this year.

If you do have complaints, the ACLU has provided a complaint form for you.

They’ve already received 400 reports of alleged abuses by the TSA.

People are proposing getting rid of the TSA all together and using private security, instead, who will focus not only on safety and anti-terrorism, but also on sensitivity and person-to-person communication.

Is this the answer? I don’t know. I doubt it, seeing as every other time our government has opted to use private companies to do security or combat jobs, it turns into something outrageous. I’m sure no one has forgotten Blackwater and other private mercenary companies and the fiascoes they keep causing. However, some airports have already gotten rid of TSA agents and are employing private security personnel instead.

Seventeen other airports, including Jackson Hole, Wyo,. and Rochester, N.Y., currently use private contractors.

One thing I am sure about, though — the way they are doing things now is also not the answer.

Oh, and one last thing. As of now, we do have options. Instead of flying, we could take a bus, a train, a subway, or drive ourselves. Depending. But, how long before these same types of agents doing these same types of procedures show up in subways, train stations, and bus stations? Then you will be told you have the option to drive yourself or, if you’re going over water, you can always take a boat or ship. Until they also show up at border crossings, sea ports, and ferry docks, as well.

This is why sacrificing your freedom in any way is not an adequate solution for keeping yourself safe. Because, in effect, you are opening the door for more and more of your freedoms to be taken away until you have no freedom left. This is something we’ve been able to recognize throughout the years, but for some reason we’re starting to forget. I think it would be a good idea if we all started to remember again.

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