How to Tolerate the TSA As a Sex Crime Victim

In our modern society, certain security features have been implemented to make passengers feel safer in airplanes. One of these features in the United States is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). While the TSA is best known for conducting searches at US airports its authority and operations extend to other types of transportation including bus and rail.

Unfortunately, these searches have become more and more invasive as the TSA tries to accomplish its task of preventing weapons, explosives and incendiaries (WEI) from entering our transportation systems. The search methods used can be very difficult to endure for people who have experienced traumatic incidents in their lives, particularly where those incidents were of a sexual nature. Enduring TSA screening methods in order to fly must be balanced with the need to protect your sensitivity to the search methods, and this article aims to help you understand the procedure better.

If you do not want to submit to the TSA screening process and find it unacceptable, see How to Protest TSA Screening As Sexual Assault.


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    Determine if travel on TSA controlled transportation is actually necessary. If the thought of a complete stranger seeing you naked or touching your body makes you uncomfortable, seek other methods of transportation. While most people will be searched by the TSA at the airport be aware that the TSA's authority to conduct screening and body searches extends to other means of transportation including, air, bus, rail and ferries. If you have found that transportation through TSA checkpoints is currently your only viable means, begin preparing yourself for TSA screening.
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    Prepare yourself for the security check. Be aware that most security checks involve X-raying all of your baggage (including any shoes, jackets, and contents of your pockets after they have been removed) and then screening of your person. In the past a walk through metal detector was used to clear people. Currently the deployment and use of X-Ray and MMW whole body scanners is rising with some airports no longer using the walk through metal detectors. The whole body scanners often require a physical search of passengers to resolve anomalies. Occasionally, people are randomly selected for a more thorough check. This could involve strip search hand-wanding, using an advanced chemical analysis system that can detect traces of explosives or a physical search that may include intimate physical contact.
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    Recognize that searches are going to happen. Instead of panicking, use your strength of mind to make preparations for all of the possible searches. TSA staff are human, just like you. While many of them take their jobs seriously, there are some who abuse their power. Ostensibly, TSA agents just want to ensure that you aren't carrying anything dangerous onto the plane. Most likely, you will be forgotten as soon as you're through the security checkpoint, but it is best to prepare for both good and bad possibilities. The TSA is *not* permitted to ask you to undergo a physical strip search. If they do, contact a law enforcement officer immediately by dialing 911.
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    Prepare everything you will need to get through security. Look up the TSA's guides for what you can and cannot carry through a security checkpoint.[1] Be sure to comply with this, as failure to do so could get you selected for additional screening. Be aware that these are only guidelines and that the TSA staff you will meet at the checkpoint have arbitrary and final power to decide what you will actually be allowed to cross the checkpoint with. Liquids can be a problem because even though the rules allow 3.4 ounce (100ml) of liquid per bottle many TSA staff interpret the rule as only allowing 3 ounces of liquid. Have your identification material[2] and boarding pass ready. This will help make your processing through the security station easier.
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    Pass through the initial security screening. Be polite , courteous, and non-confrontational. Be Patient, as this process can be the most time-consuming thing you will do at the airport.
    • Ideally, how well-mannered you are should not affect the extent to which you are screened, but in reality people are more suspicious of people who are visibly apprehensive. It generally helps to maintain your best manners and be very cooperative, and this will likely win back a similar attitude from the TSA staff, but in some cases it may not.
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    Familiarize yourself with your options. If you are selected to pass through the millimeter wave scanner[3] or the backscatter machine[4], you may opt out of those in favor of an enhanced pat-down. If receiving a pat-down you have the right to a private screening room and a witness of your choice. The airline you are traveling with may be able to provide a witness for you if you do not have one available. While the TSA will try to provide a screener of the same gender as you for your body search you are not guaranteed this and have no right to a screener of the same sex.
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    Fear not to explain your situation. If you are pulled aside for additional screening, do not be afraid to explain your situation to the TSA official; the officials have no way of knowing unless you speak up. Just be sure to do so in a courteous manner. They may be able to arrange for an alternative screening process that will help you feel more at ease. If they cannot do so, be prepared for the extra screening. Know that the TSA official has a job to do.
    • Before the beginning of a pat-down you can request a private area for a personal search at any time during the screening process. In the unlikely event of a strip search, you will be offered a disposable paper drape for additional privacy.
    • You can have a companion, assistant, or family member accompany you and assist you during a private or public screening. After providing this assistance, the companion, assistant, or family member will need to be re-screened.
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    Understand that many people go through this process every day. People are often worried that a full body scanner will take a picture that might get out. The TSA's official position is that full body scanners do not show the image for more than a few seconds, and there is no way to save it. While extremely unlikely, leaked images may be a real risk, as there are many examples of leaked scanner images.[5] You can take comfort in the fact that a strip-search or frisking is not designed to injure you in any way, psychologically or physically. Try to keep repeating this, as it will help you understand that when you face the security checkpoint.
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    Be prepared for physical contact. During some searches the TSA staff will give you a pat-down to ensure you do not have anything harmful.
    • You have the right to ask a security officer to change her or his gloves during the physical inspection of your accessible property, before performing a physical search (pat-down,) or any time a security officer handles your footwear.
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    Take some time to recover afterward. It may have felt intrusive and even upsetting but carrying the sense of disturbance with you will increase your upset and it is better to center yourself and find some calm.
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    Remember that no one else can tell you what you feel. Despite their best efforts to fire all TSA agents who act inappropriately in their positions [6], the TSA may still have some disgruntled or disturbed agents. If you feel that you have been treated or handled inappropriately, contact the TSA and your representatives [7] to try to prevent it from happening again.
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    Remember that you have the option to say no. The fourth amendment protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizure. Airport security searches are reasonable, but the pat-down searches fall into a gray area. They are perfectly legal provided the TSA has reason to believe you are carrying something illegal. However, they are frequently done without proper cause. You have the legal right to refuse any searches, but in doing so TSA will likely not permit you access through the security checkpoint, thereby denying you access to air travel. In at least one instance, a man was threatened with a lawsuit if he left the airport after beginning, then refusing, TSA screening. [8]
    • If you think that a TSA pat-down is sexual assault, take action. Write your Congresspeople, complain to the TSA, participate in a protest, and most importantly, if a TSA employee tries to put his or her hands on you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, tell him or her NO. Tell him or her that you have a right to travel while free from sexual assault. Tell the employee that buying a plane ticket does not void the Constitution. State clearly that if they touch your genitals or breasts that it is non-consensual and you will consider it sexual assault and will call the police to have them arrested for sexually assaulting you. They may tell you that you may not fly, but you have stood up for not only yourself, but for everyone else around you. Your dignity, your rights, and your freedom are more important. For more information, search the Internet for TSA forum, TSA lawsuits, etc. You are not alone.


  • Always be compliant with the TSA staff. A non-compliant or unruly individual raises red-flags and will likely be denied access or subjected to more extensive screening. Any actions that could be considered as 'interfering with the screening process' may result in detention, arrest and an administrative fine, without a chance to appear before a judge and jury, in excess of $10,000.
  • Some airlines may be able to tell you upon check-in whether or not you have been selected for extra screening. Be aware that airlines are very limited in the help they can provide with regard to the TSA.
  • The most important thing you have is your mind. Use it to keep yourself calm and composed. This will help you work through your anxieties and prevent a TSA search from being an overly traumatic experience.
  • Always be prepared and courteous when passing through airport security. This will help you especially if you have special needs.
  • If you begin to feel extremely uncomfortable, let the TSA staff know. You may have to explain your situation. Explaining may at least help to make it clear why you are behaving especially nervous, agitated, or irritable.


  • Do not try anything illegal. This includes trying to sneak past security. Attempting something like this will only land you in more trouble with more invasive searches.

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