How TSA Patdowns Meet the Definition of Sexual Assault

Posted on May 14, 2012 by


Sexual assault is generally defined as forced or coerced sexual contact which can range from touching to penetration. State statutes will vary, and the legal wording changes from time to time, but that’s sexual assault in a nutshell.  Forced or coerced. Forced we all understand pretty well. Coerced sometimes needs a little more explanation.

Coercion as defined by Wikipedia: “the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats or intimidation or some other form of pressure or force.” In sexual assault cases this can take many forms. The perpetrator may threaten the victim by saying, “If you don’t give me what I want, I’ll tell everyone we did it anyway and make it sound worse.”  Or the threat may be implied, it may reside in the offender’s greater size and perceived power.

Image: CrimeCents

Now think about the TSA patdown. No one actually wants a patdown, and certainly not the aggressive new patdowns which are often made intentionally rougher and more intrusive for the passengers who choose to opt out of the body scanners. TSA would argue that by choosing to fly, you are consenting to their security screening. Is this very different from, say, arguing that a woman who chooses to go on a date is consenting to sexual contact afterward? Or that if she didn’t say no, it means she consented?

So if travelers do not want to be patted down, how do they wind up with TSA agents’ hands all over their bodies? Because TSA forces another party to behave in an involuntary manner. TSA uses threats, intimidation, and other forms of pressure or force. They dress in uniforms designed to trick travelers into thinking that TSA employees are law enforcement officers. They threaten passengers with missing their flights. They are abusive. They lie about the effectiveness of the screening in order to gain compliance.

I have experienced this personally, and any quick search for TSA abuse will net you link after link after link to TSA horror stories.

The TSA model, in its own way, supports some of the cultural myths about rape and coercive control.

She never said no. She knew what was going to happen, but she went along with it anyway. Touching other people’s bodies is normal. It’s your duty to let someone else touch your bathing suit areas. You have to let people in a position of power do what they want to you, even if you don’t like it. You shouldn’t argue about being touched in sensitive areas if it’s for your own good.

We should be ashamed that our society has gone so far as to support the continued sexual assault of citizens at the hands of government employees with no actual benefit to security. Even if there were a benefit, would it be worth it? What price security? How far is too far?

As Ben Franklin said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

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