THE BLOG

A TSA Agent Touched My Breasts And Groin In The Name Of 'Security'

I keep thinking about how it felt to have a stranger touch me in the middle of Logan airport in places I would only let my partner touch me. I keep thinking about what would happen if they tried to do it to my child.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
airport security check using a metal detector on a passenger.
airport security check using a metal detector on a passenger.

It started off as an ordinary airport experience. I was heading to Cleveland for a business conference. I packed carry-on for the short two-day trip. I kissed my son goodbye, thanked my parents for looking after him while I was gone, and set off by Uber to Logan International Airport.

A seasoned traveler, I packed a pair of socks in my purse for when they inevitably asked me to take my cute summer shoes off at the security check as I don't enjoy walking around barefoot in public places. I dutifully took out my laptop, removed my watch, placed everything into a couple of the little grey bins provided. I heeded the requests to stay with my things until I pushed my personal items all the way through the x-ray machine.

I walked into the full body scanner, put my hands over my head in the "surrender" position, and was scanned. I've read about these scanners and how the people on the other side of the screen can see every inch of your body, almost as if you are naked. I tried not to think about it.

I went to go collect my things from the x-ray machine conveyer belt and noticed that my purple suitcase was being carried off. That's where things took a terrible turn.

The TSA woman, who could not have been more than 24, smiled and proceeded to do her job. My bag, she said, had to be looked through to find something that made the x-ray operator take notice. After a few moments of scanning, we found the culprit, a small bottle of Victoria's Secret "Sheer Romance" body spray. It was bigger than the current allowed size. I grumbled slightly, but said "no worries, just take it away." But then the random swabbing she had done of my bag made her machine beep. I would have to go with her for a full bag search, she said, and a pat down.

I could not touch my bag, I was told. So she carried it half opened to a table. I was confused. What could possibly have made my bag set off their alarm? I'm a mom on her way to a conference. Besides having packed too many shoes, a box of heavy business cards, and possibly having the remnants of animal crackers in my bag from the last time traveling with my son, there wasn't much in there, much less anything nefarious.

The TSA woman asked me if I ever had a pat down before. I told her I had been patted down when the metal detector went off. She said this was going to be more thorough. She proceeded to tell me that she was going to be touching me in some very private areas. She would use the back of her hand when she touched my breasts, she said. I couldn't entirely believe what was going on and can't say I remember everything she said. There was panic in my head. "Am I going to be one of those people I have read about? One of those people who get close to violated by a complete stranger in the name of our national security?" It turns out that's exactly what was about to happen. She asked if I wanted a private screening. I declined, thinking that it would likely be better to be out in an open space.

She started with my hair. She moved through my hair with thoroughness that I have come to expect from my hairdresser. Then my arms. My back. My legs. She went up my side and around my waste. I felt myself tensing up. This woman, this woman who works for the TSA was going to touch my entire body so that I could go to Cleveland. And she did. Using the back of her hand as she promised she touched my breasts, around them, under them. While she was doing that one of her male colleagues walked past and said to me, with a smile on his face: "Watch out with her, she gets a little handsy!" She turned red. I started to feel as bad for her as I did for me. There was nothing normal about this.

But still she continued. She pressed around my waistband and underneath my buttocks. She ran her hands up my left leg and touched my groin. As she ran her hands up my right leg and touched my groin again I actually found myself needing to hold back tears. What was happening here? This couldn't be right.

Before I could process what was going on she had finished with the pat down, but there was more embarrassment I would have to suffer through before I would be allowed to travel.

We walked over to the table on which she had placed my bag. She took out my dresses I had neatly packed and put them on the cold silver surface. Then my skirts. Then my stockings. I asked her if she was going to completely unpack everything. She said she had to. So one by one she pulled out every item in my suitcase, my Immodium AD in case the food disagreed with me, my nighties, my shoes. Everything was touched, squeezed and often swabbed and then tested. Every time she put the wand into the machine I felt my body tighten, wondering what would happen if I twice set off the alarm. The thought petrified me so much I had to put it out of my mind.

Seeing how uncomfortable I was (and possibly feeling guilty about the faux pas of her male colleague) she spared me the embarrassment of taking my panties out one by one and checked them all inside the bag. She didn't pull out my feminine products for swabbing. I whispered to her "thank you." She just looked at me apologetically. She didn't like what she was doing any more than I liked it being done to me.

She finally finished and asked me if I needed help packing up my bag. I said I was ok. She told me to have a nice day and went back to her work. As I packed up my stuff, I noticed she had left the bottle of "Sheer Romance" on the table. I had to laugh to myself at the ludicrousness of it all. Here they searched my bag because my perfume was slightly larger than the allowed size, and after what can only be termed as a complete violation of my privacy, there was the little bottle, forgotten. I sprayed myself a few times with it and found an agent to throw it away. I didn't want to look at it. I didn't want to risk taking it back from Cleveland and having to suffer the ordeal all over again.

But I keep thinking about it. I keep thinking about how it felt to have a stranger touch me in the middle of Logan airport in places I would only let my partner touch me. I keep thinking about what would happen if they tried to do it to my child. What would I do? Now that I know what it feels like I would never allow my son to be "patted down" but until today I had no idea of the violation one would suffer. And I keep thinking of that bottle of "Sheer Romance," sitting there, abandoned on the TSA table.

When a mother on her way to a business conference is searched with such reckless abandon for human privacy, what have we really accomplished as a nation? Knowing I (and perhaps even my son) can be violated like makes the safety of being "protected" from terrorists feel a lot less safe. The words are still ringing in my ear... "watch out with her.... She gets handsy." I may never feel safe flying again.