Image: pat-down
A Transportation Security Administration agent performs an enhanced pat-down Wednesday on a traveler at a security area at Denver International Airport in Denver. and NBC News
updated 11/18/2010 3:52:41 PM ET 2010-11-18T20:52:41

If you refuse to go through one of the Transportation Security Administration's new full-body security scanners at the airport, don't be startled if a TSA employee grabs you by the private parts, according to travelers who have undergone security inspections that they claim would be illegal sexual assault if they weren't being done by the government.

If you're lucky, you simply get waved through the metal detector. If you're not, critics say, it's a Hobson's choice: You can pose for uncomfortably graphic full-body images in the new scanners, more than 300 of which are in use across the country, or you can get groped by the government. "If they refuse that, they will not fly," said Dwight Baird, a spokesman for the TSA. Door No. 3 is the exit.

That means "we're going to continue to get more and more violated," said Jennifer Lynn Woods of Salt Lake City, Utah, who said "I looked like somebody just about to cry" after she was randomly chosen for what the TSA calls an "extended pat-down" at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix this week.

During her inspection — which Woods said took place in a small cubicle in view of other passengers — an agent patted up her legs from her ankles and cupped her genitals. Then, the agent pulled her elastic skirt band away from her waist and looked down her skirt, she said.

"By the end of it, I had my arms across my face and didn't want to have anything to do with it," said Woods, who said the "humiliating" experience left her feeling like she'd been molested.

Newsweek: TSA screenings worry sexual assault survivors
Fed-up fliers protest airport security measures

The TSA said it couldn't discuss exactly what happens in an extended pat-down for security reasons. But other travelers who've undergone one are under no such constraint.

  1. Related coverage
    1. AP
      Fed-up fliers protest airport security measures

      For 30 years, Marcia Miller has flown to Toledo, Ohio, to join four generations of her family for Thanksgiving. But this year, thanks to new airport security measures, she's opting to stay home. Full story

    2. Lessons learned from 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles'
    3. Road work may slow your holiday road trip
    4. Tactical Thanksgiving: holiday travel game plan
    5. Hefty surcharges a new holiday travel tradition
    6. Holiday travel 2010: what you need to know

"I think it's sexual violation," said Erin Chase of Atlanta, who was patted down when she flew out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport last week with her young child.

"The TSA person proceeded to touch the outside of my clothing, my buttocks — including my private parts in the front — and touched in front of my breasts," Chase said. "I think it's sexual molestation all the way around."

Judith Briles of Aurora, Colo., said she is always pulled out of the scanner line because she has two knee implants, which inevitably trigger an alarm when she tries to go through. So she's already had several intimately personal encounters with TSA screeners

"They're doing full frontal, where they run their hands over your breasts — they will cup your breast — and they’re going inside your collar," Briles said. "If anyone pulled what TSA is doing, they would be sued and fired for just blatant sexual harassment."

Briles called the procedure "a joke" and said that "taking off your clothes for a full-body massage would have more integrity."

Howard Bovers of Bend, Ore., said he, too, was appalled.

"I just think it doesn't require patting some poor guy in the crotch," Bovers said as he prepared to leave on a flight this week at Redmond Municipal Airport in Redmond, Ore. "That's ridiculous."

Baird of the TSA said travelers were exaggerating the intrusiveness of the inspections, which he said "have long been one of the security measures that TSA and virtually every other nation has used in its risk-based approach to help detect hidden and dangerous items such as explosives."

  1. Most popular
That's just fine with other travelers, who agreed with the 81 percent of Americans who endorsed the new security procedures in a CBS News poll released this week.

"If it's going to make us safer, then I'm OK with whatever action they may have to take," said McCall Greenwood, who flew out of the Boise, Idaho, airport Tuesday.

“It was fine," said Sharon Thompson, who was screened Wednesday at Elmira-Corning Regional Airport in Big Flats, N.Y.

"They explained it, everything that they we’re going to do," she said, repeating, "I had no problem with it."

There's one other group that also doesn't mind the new measures.

The American Association for Nude Recreation said it was offering a "Certificate of Achievement" for anyone who "proudly supports TSA body scanning measures."

"They're only bringing what nature gave them aboard," said Erich Schuttauf, executive director of the nudist group based in Kissimmee, Fla. "You can add the experience to your 'bucket list' as a virtual dipping of one's toe into taking a 'nakation' — that's a nudist vacation."

© 2013  Reprints

Video: Screenings, pat-downs don't fly with pilots

Data: Where are the scanners?

Photos: Holiday Travel

loading photos...
  1. (Joe Heller / The Green Bay Press-Gazette, Back to slideshow navigation
  2. (Jimmy Margulies / The New Jersey Record, Back to slideshow navigation
  3. (Nate Beeler / The Washington Examiner, Back to slideshow navigation
  4. (Adam Zyglis / The Buffalo News, Back to slideshow navigation
  5. (Joe Heller / The Green Bay Press-Gazette, Back to slideshow navigation
  6. (Andy Singer / No Exit, Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  1. Joe Heller / The Green Bay Press-Gazette,
    Above: Slideshow (6) Holiday Travel
  2. Terry "Aislin" Mosher / The Montreal Gazette, Canada,
    Slideshow (6) Airport Body Searches


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments