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msnbc.com
updated 11/20/2010 11:51:31 AM ET 2010-11-20T16:51:31

A longtime Charlotte, N.C., flight attendant and cancer survivor told a local television station  that she was forced to show her prosthetic breast during a pat-down.

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Cathy Bossi, who works for U.S. Airways, said she received the pat-down after declining to do the full-body scan because of radiation concerns.

The TSA screener "put her full hand on my breast and said, 'What is this?' " Bossi told the station. "And I said, 'It's my prosthesis because I've had breast cancer.' And she said, 'Well, you'll need to show me that.' "

Bossi said she removed the prosthetic from her bra. She did not take the name of the agent, she said, "because it was just so horrific of an experience, I couldn't believe someone had done that to me. I'm a flight attendant. I was just trying to get to work."

For Americans who wear prosthetics — either because they are cancer survivors or have lost a limb — or who have undergone hip replacements or have a pacemaker, the humiliation of the TSA's new security procedures — choosing between a body scan or body search — is even worse.

Musa Mayer has worn a breast prosthesis for 21 years since her mastectomy and is used to the alarms it sets off at airport security. But nothing prepared her for the "invasive and embarrassing" experience of being patted down, poked and examined recently while passing through airport security at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

"I asked the supervisor if she realized that there are 3 million women who have had breast cancer in the U.S., many of whom wear breast prostheses. Will each of us now have to undergo this humiliating, time-consuming routine every time we pass through one of these new body scanners?" she said in an e-mail to msnbc.com.

Blog: My Favorite Intrusive Body Scanner Cartoons

'I was so humiliated'
Marlene McCarthy of Rhode Island said she went through the body scanner and was told by a TSA agent to step aside. In "full view of everyone," McCarthy said in an e-mail, the agent "immediately put the back of her hand on my right side chest and I explained I wore a prosthesis.

"Then, she put her full hands ... one on top and one on the bottom of my 'breast' and moved the prosthesis left, right, up, down and said 'OK.' I was so humiliated.

"I went to the desk area and complained," McCarthy wrote. "The woman there was very nice and I asked her if the training included an understanding of how prosthetics are captured on the scanner and told her the pat-down is embarrassing. She said, 'We have never even had that discussion and I do the training for the TSA employees here, following the standard manual provided.' She said she will bring it up at their next meeting."

If she has to go through the scanner again, McCarthy said, "I am determined to put the prosthesis in the gray bucket," provided to travelers at the security check-ins for items such as jewelry.

"Let the TSA scanners be embarrassed .... not me anymore!" she wrote.

Sharon Kiss, 66, has a pacemaker, but also has to fly often for her work.

"During a recent enhanced pat-down, a screener cupped my breasts and felt my genitals," she said in an e-mail to msnbc.com "To 'clear my waistband' she put her hands down my pants and groped for the waistband of my underwear.

"I expressed humiliation and was told 'You have the choice not to fly.' "

The remark infuriated Kiss, who lives in Mendocino, Calif. "Extrapolate this to we should not provide curb cuts and ramps for people confined to wheelchairs because they can choose to stay home ... This a violation of civil rights. And because I have a disability, I should not be subjected to what is government-sanctioned sexual assault in order to board a plane."

TSA: Pilots to be exempt from some airport security checks

No planned changes to security
So far, the government is not letting up on the enhanced screening program. TSA administrator John Pistole said this week at a Congressional hearing on the matter that "reasonable people can disagree" on how to properly balance safety at the nation's airports, but that the new security measures are necessary because of intelligence on latest attack methods that might be used by terrorists.

Gail Mengel, of Blue Springs, Mo., is used to being patted down; she had a hip replacement five years ago.

"I admit that I was relieved when I flew last week and was able to spend a few seconds in front of the X-ray screen in Seattle and Denver," she said in an e-mail to msnbc.com. "I have heard medical experts say the level of radiation will not hurt us. And frankly I was happy to realize I won't have my body touched, patted and rubbed anymore.

"Unfortunately last weekend, I arrived at the New Orleans airport and learned that airport staff (was) still being trained in using the X-ray machine. Because my hip replacement sets off the security buzzer, I was faced with the new regulations."

While she is "used to" being patted down, "this experience was certainly much more personal, uncomfortable and embarrassing," she said. "Every part of my body was touched. I do not want to be harmed by radiation, but the experience was painless and quick compared to what I have faced over the last five years. I support security measures but I also hope we can be assured of safe procedures."

One man, from Nashville, wrote in an e-mail that "as a handicapped person, I am sick and tired of being 'raped' at the security line. I lose my crutches and leg orthotics to be 'nuked' by the X-ray machine. Then manhandled by the pat-down, followed by chemical swabbing for 'possible explosives.' ...Enough is enough."

Said Mayer, the longtime breast cancer survivor: "I am outraged that I will now be forced to show my prosthesis to strangers, remove it and put in the X-ray bin for screening, or not to wear it at all whenever I fly. To me, this seems unfairly discriminatory and embarrassing for me, and for all breast cancer survivors."

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Video: Has the TSA gone too far?

  1. Closed captioning of: Has the TSA gone too far?

    >>> inch it was merely a matter of time before an ineffective, unnecessarily expensive and invasive security measure would reach critical mass , lawsuits, legislative action and complaints from travelers. our fourth story with the tas's porno scanner or junk groper security option, we are there. with the added bonus of a protest which could at your choosing involve the wearing of kilts. first the proposed legislation that it hassed could set off a wave of protests across the country offered by david greenefield. it would ban the tsa from using body scanners. mr. greenfield says that six other council members have already signed on to his legislation.

    >> it's an outrage. it's unacceptable. it's ineffectual. and that's why i've introduced legislation with the support of many of my colleagues on city council to ban these naked body scanners from the entire new york city including new york 's airports. remember, once again, even of top security experts , this does not work.

    >> there is the issue of whether a local law could override a federal agency like the tsa. greenfield says he believes it could as long as security measures are in place and the existence of such legislation prior to a court challenge might get the tsa to rethink this. two new jersey state senators are drafting a resolution calling on congress to end the tsa procedures. in addition to the lawsuit by two pilots to stop the new screening procedure which we mentioned previously, there's also a lawsuit from the electronic privacy information center who's director will join me. that suit filed dense the department of homeland security argues body scanners violate fourth amendment protections against search and seizures. meanwhile complaints about the pat-downs mounting. reports of inconsistently applied techniques according to "the new york times." one woman, an elementary schoolteacher, telling "the times," and forget the graphic description, i didn't really expect her, the tsa agent, to touch my vagina through my pants and submitting to the porn scanner does not guarantee exemption from the pat-down since some passengers who go through are randomly selectsed for the search anyway. then people with medical issues forced to submit to the pat-down every time. a woman telling "the times" she travels on a monthly basis. an instance reported of a charlotte area passenger and cancer survivor who says she was forced to remove her prosthetic breast. the flight attendant reluctantly complied. next wednesday, the 24th, the busiest travel day of the year. although opting out of the porn scanner means submitting to the pat-down, the point would still be made to the tsa, variations are being proposed from jeffrey goldberg of "the atlantic," for example, urging men to wear kilts. possibly with commando style. others urge passengers to strip down to their underwear before entering the security line. that also according to "the new york times." let's bring in as promised, professor of law at georgetown university , mark wrotenberg. thank you for your time tonight.

    >> nice to see you.

    >> does this lawsuit become stronger because of the evidence that these scanners don't really accomplish what they're supposedly accomplishing?

    >> absolutely. the critical question that a court will have to ask is whether the search is reasonable. we argued originally that it was uniquely invasive and unnecessary. but we've since learned that it's also not reccive because it does not detect materials in body cavities . it does not detect powdered explosives. it really does not work. we think when the court gets the opportunity to do the analysis, they'll conclude it's just not reasonable. the tsa has crossed a line here.

    >> how does the fact that passengers are given this so-called option either a scanner or pat-down, you know, a picture or a feel-up, what does that choice do to this argument of yours?

    >> you know, it's interesting. before we filed this lawsuit, keith, we had actually done another lawsuit under the freedom of information act . and we asked the dhs to turn over to us the traveler complaints that we knew they had received. they weren't talking about them. they were telling the public that there were no objections, that everything was okay. we got ahold of those traveler complaints. and people describe the sense of being, you know, violated. and we've since received more complaints from people who experience the pat-down. they say it feels like retaliation. anyone who asks for a pat-down in an airport is literally called out by the security officials, pulled aside and experiences something that's really humiliating. we don't see it as a meaningful aternativ alternative.

    >> the defenders of this have said that there was a recent cbs news poll that suggested that more than 80% of americans were okay with both of these processes. do you suppose that that number comes from the fact that it's probable this all went into effect -- we've only probably had 20% or less of the public actually go through this experience?

    >> yeah, i'd like them to ask that poll question to people, you know, after they go through this new tsa security procedure. i think those numbers, you know, would drop to close to zero. there are very few people who experience this enhanced pat-down who feel good about it. and even the people who are trying to seem strong, and they say, well, they're willing to accept some sacrifice, when they watch their daughter or their wife being touched by someone else in this way, i think they have a very different feeling.

    >> what needs do you think should happen next? more action like the thing in new york city or these protests or all of it, or what?

    >> the first thing, i think it's very heartening to see how much public opposition just in the last week has been growing all across the country. council member greenfield in new york city , congressman ron paul , religious groups , political groups across the spectrum. i think are speaking out. and we're hearing it in congress now, too. from both democrats and republicans. they're not happy. my own organization, epic today, filed another lawsuit. we actually want to get the dhs to disclose the medical studies, the reports that they relied on, before they decided to make primary screening, you know, the body scanner procedure. there's been a lot of controversy about the medical impacts and the exposure to radiation. some experts are saying it's not a big deal . other people are saying it could be quite serious, quite harmful. we think at the very least, the department of homeland security should make available the studies they relied on. let the public decide. let people have more say about all this. they're just being told by tsa they have to go through all of it.

    >> it's like the chicago stockyards . mark rotenberg , good luck with your efforts and thanks for

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    Slideshow (6) Airport Body Searches

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