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Parents call for TSA to review frisking after kid gets pat-down

A Kentucky couple wants the TSA to change how it screens children after their 6-year-old daughter was frisked at the New Orleans airport.
/ Source: NBC, and news services

A Kentucky couple wants the TSA to change how it screens children after their 6-year-old daughter was frisked at the New Orleans airport.

Selena Drexel told ABC's "Good Morning America" Wednesday the family was returning home from a vacation earlier this month when their daughter Anna was selected for a pat-down. She said she asked for her daughter to be re-scanned, but was refused.

"We struggle to teach our kids to protect themselves, to say, 'No, it's not OK to touch me in this way in this area,' " Selena Drexel told the network.

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The incident drew attention and outrage after the Drexels posted a video of the search on YouTube.

The girl's father, Todd Drexel, said Anna was confused by the search and started crying afterward because she thought she'd done something wrong.

Selena Drexel says such searches are inappropriate for children because they're usually told not to let adults touch them in sensitive areas. She said she posted the video because she "had a very bad feeling that what happened was wrong."

In a statement, the Transportation Security Administration says the officer followed proper procedure but that the agency is reviewing its screening policies for "low-risk populations, such as young passengers." The statement says the agency is exploring ways to "move beyond a one-size fits all system."

TSA screeners are instructed to use a "modified" pat down for children 12 and younger, according to the agency's website.

A congressman whose subcommittee oversees national security issues said he was "personally outraged and disgusted" over the security pat-down.

"This conduct is in clear violation of TSA's explicit policy not to conduct thorough pat-downs on children under the age of 13," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, said in a statement Wednesday.

Jennifer Mitchell, a child safety advocate, said after viewing the YouTube video that the pat-down seemed "a little invasive."

"This is a hard issue because we have national security on one hand... and children's safety on the other," said Mitchell, co-president of Child Lures Prevention, a Shelburne, Vermont, organization that works to prevent crimes against children.

Mitchell said she knows families who have declined to fly because they don't want their children frisked. She recommended that parents tell children before going to the airport that they may get a pat-down.

But children should be told "the only reason it would be allowed is the parents are right there, the clothes are not being removed, the parents are watching to make sure it's done OK," Mitchell said.

Martin Macpherson, the director of the London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, said he is not aware of instances when terrorists have used children as young as six in an attack.

NBC's Pete Williams reported that while the TSA didn't want to exempt an entire category of people from pat-downs, the agency's boss John Pistole wanted to move away from the one-size-fits-all system and improving screening of low-risk passengers such as children.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.