After “routine” TSA screening, one passenger says: never again!

Editor’s Note: The following post concerning a recent TSA screening uses anatomical terms to describe reproductive organs and may not be suitable for all audiences.

Kimberly Marcus is an educational consultant from Alfred, N.Y., who describes herself as a law-abiding citizen. Yet she says the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has treated her worse than a convicted felon, sexually assaulting her and “repeatedly touching my private areas.”

Failing a TSA screening

Marcus’ crime? Failing its controversial full-body scan as she recently tried to board her flight at the Tri-Cities Regional Airport in Blountville, Tenn.

Is this another in a series of sad and troubling stories about the agency assigned to protect our transportation systems? Yes, but there’s a twist. This incident was transformative for Marcus — and maybe for me. You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

“I am an average American woman, mother, teacher and college administrator,” she says. “I am a law-abiding citizen.”

What happened to her at the airport, however, should be against the law.

The incident

She explains:

I “failed” going through millimeter wave detection. I was pulled out for a very thorough pat-down.

An agent felt up my leg until she “met resistance.” Several times. The agent also felt across the front of me with her fingertips.

This routine is not at all routine or acceptable to me, and I found what would be sexual assault in other contexts to be very disturbing and upsetting.

Marcus felt she had no choice but to comply.

Once passengers are in the TSA area, there is no longer any choice, and I am aware of instances where passengers have been physically harmed or treated more aggressively for objecting to any TSA procedures.

I am sure many would say what happened to me is no big deal, just the post-9/11 price we must pay to be safe in the skies. I say there will be an even bigger price to pay for giving up our rights, freedoms and dignity, particularly 4th Amendment in this case.

This TSA screening turned her from citizen to activist

For her, it was a transformative moment. With a flick of a blue-gloved hand, she turned from citizen to activist. After the pat-down ended, she stood with people like Lisa Simeone and Sommer Gentry, vowing to never rest until the government stopped these invasive searches.

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“I was sexually assaulted and touched repeatedly in the private areas multiple times by the TSA agent during a routine pat-down,” she told me. “Preservation of civil rights, human rights, and foundational freedoms is very important if we are to remain intact as a nation.”

And so began her letter-writing campaign — the White House, the TSA, Congress, and anyone else who would listen to her.

“I want change to undo all the damage done to our basic human rights,” she says. “I demand that my representative government start listening to people.”

Waiting for change

Marcus has vowed to not fly until the TSA stops what it calls “routine” pat-downs and scans.

I would quit flying, too, if I could. I opt out of the TSA scanners for a variety of reasons when I fly (read my frequently asked questions about the TSA for my reasons).

But my last pat-down stands out. It was San Antonio, Texas, several weeks ago. The agent would not make eye contact with me and he moved quickly to perform his pat-down. When he slid his fingers up my pant leg, he did it so carelessly and quickly that I doubled over in pain when he hit my testicles — or, in TSA parlance, “met resistance.”

There is no credible evidence that tapping my testicles or rubbing against Marcus’ labia is improving airport security.

None. Whatsoever.

So here’s my question: Why aren’t we standing with Marcus? What is stopping us from saying the government has no business treating us worse than criminals when we try to fly? What are we afraid of?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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