Holiday travel stokes sex crime victims’ TSA pat-down fears


It was days after her pat down that Marcia reacted.

Not that the enhanced frisk at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport wasn’t unsettling at the time; she had just allowed her mind to take her elsewhere as the agent patted down her breasts, groin and buttocks.

But sitting at home days later, as she made restaurant reservations for a trip to Las Vegas, Marcia snapped.

“All of a sudden, I got this wave of anxiety,” the 58-year-old said. “I was feeling just fear, powerlessness. I was nauseated and I wanted to throw up, and I cried, cried for hours.”

Marcia, who asked that CNN use only her first name, was molested by her uncle for almost a decade until she was 12. Her airport experience, and that of others, has advocacy groups concerned that the Transportation Security Administration’s pat-down procedures could traumatize some sex crime victims.

As the holiday travel season ramps up again, airports will see a spike in fliers passing through their security lanes. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, several critics of the pat-down procedures, including John Tyner of don’t-touch-my-junk fame, used terms like “sexual assault” and “groping” to describe the pat downs.

For some sex crime victims, that’s more than hyperbole.

Annette Burrhus-Clay, executive director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, said her organization takes calls on a variety of matters, from sex offender laws to the state’s adult entertainment fee to Mike Tyson’s boxing license.

Never, she said, has her group received the number of calls it has fielded over the issue of TSA pat downs and full-body scanners. She expects another bump in the number of concerns as more people undergo the latest security procedures.

The complaints that the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault has fielded range from being photographed or touched by a stranger to feeling powerless as TSA agents take control in a procedure involving a person’s body, she said.

Though the TSA estimates that only 3 percent of passengers are subjected to pat downs — and then, only after they have set off a metal detector or declined to step into a full-body scanner — Burrhus-Clay said the mere prospect has some people scared to fly.

“They were afraid to even take the chance of this happening, of falling apart, getting hysterical, starting to cry,” she said.

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