TSA Grooming

One of our kids got the opportunity to go to a summer leadership program in one of the farther reaches of the country. In the old days there would have been a simple way to do this: get on a plane with her, fly up there, rent a car, drop her at the program, fly back, then return when the program is over and pick her up. Or even put her on a plane by herself and let the leadership program’s staff pick her up and drop her off on the far end.

Thanks to the Transportation Security Agency, such schemes are, for the Bennett kids, no more. We’ll be driving—I’m not taking my kids to a place where a government goon can and is likely to, for no good reason, lawfully feel them up. (The TSA says it will only pat down children who set off the metal detector. This is small comfort: I go through enough metal detectors to know that there are lots of factors other than too much metal that will cause such machines to give an alarm.)

Lots of parents will say, “what’s the big deal?” and blithely subject their young children to the possibility of an intrusive patdown for the convenience of air travel. For these parents, the family vacation to the ski slopes is worth exposing their young to genital groping by strangers of unknown provenance. I have little respect for this prioritization (I might even, in a snarkier mood, call it narcissistic). If a stranger on the street offered a parent an all-expenses-paid skiing vacation in exchange for the opportunity to pat down the parent’s young children, the parent would be a pendejo to accept. The difference between that situation and the TSA patdown is that the TSA isn’t offering as much compensation—it won’t pay for the vacation; it’ll only allow access to the transportation system.

If the parent said no and the stranger touched the child on the street in the manner of a TSA patdown, no jury in the country would convict the parent for beating the stranger. In fact, after having been beaten the stranger might well find himself cuffed in the back of a patrol car and facing charges of indecency with a child. And rightly so: we teach our children that their bodies are their own to control, and that no stranger need be allowed such liberties. The parents who bundle their children onto planes to hit the slopes set a price on the children’s rights to be left alone—a price that should be set only by the child, once the child is old enough.

The stranger patting down children on the street wouldn’t be committing a sex crime unless he were acting with sexual intent. And most TSA screeners—assuming that they’re anywhere near the norm, sexually (maybe not a valid assumption—the authoritarian personality that would lead one to seek TSA work likely has associated paraphilias)—have no sexual interest in groping a preteen child. But to the young child, there’s no noticeable difference between being groped by a stranger because mommy and daddy want to go to the beach, and being groped by a stranger because that’s how he gets his rocks off.

Refusing to travel by air is, for me, not a matter of morals or bodily integrity but an act of political protest. TSA’s security theater is costly, ineffectual, and dangerous; those objections to TSA’s procedures could be overcome by an adequate incentive. For example, if my brother needed me or (to be blunt) if the money were right, I’d let some high-school dropout with a criminal record pat me down. Yes, it is negotiable; yes, we are just haggling over the price. Such is politics.

Refusing to subject my young children to such groping, however, is more a parenting decision than a political decision. It is nonnegotiable: except for “in an emergency, when it is the only way to get them out of imminent greater danger,” I can think of no reason I would allow my children to go through airport security again.

At some point, children are able make the decision themselves to allow strangers to touch their bodies. How old depends on the child. Until that age, parents allowing TSA screeners to do so send the wrong message: that government thugs are in the class of people who should be allowed to touch our genitals, and that the only price we exact for such contact is access to air travel.

When an adult, with bad intent, uses legal activities to lower a child’s resistance to sexual assault, it’s called “grooming.” Wake up, America. The government may not be grooming your children—it may not have that particular bad intent—but it is grooming you.

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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36 Responses to TSA Grooming

  1. Anna Durbin says:

    I agree with you, fwiw.

  2. Bobby Mims says:

    I agree 100%…I recently drove my daughter to Texas Tech from Tyler rather than fly. It is 457 miles one way and 7 hours on the road. By the time I leave my house and arrive at Tech I would only be about 1 hour behind what I would have if I flew and went through the “book-in” process of the TSA thugs.

    Not worth the price of admission.

    • Mark Bennett says:

      A normal 17-year-old can decide who gets to grope her, but Dad is absolutely right to offer to drive so that being groped is not the only option.

      Besides, I think seven hours in the car with your soon-to-be-college-freshman daughter is probably what the Mastercard people would call “priceless.”

  3. The last time I flew, they had just begun this insulting program, in October 2010. I acted like a sheep because I wanted to get home so bad and swore then and there that I will NEVER fly commercial again. Two weeks later I began taking flying lessons. I will never set foot on a commercial plane again, at least until this is shut down. TSA is going to kill a complete sector of our economy because of this. My son was accepted to a summer program at Oxford. I am looking into hiring a private jet to take us overseas for holiday while he attends the program. I will NEVER allow my children to travel on commercial airlines.

    • Mark Bennett says:

      A commenter on another blog put it this way: “It’s like they’ve uninvented commercial aviation for me.”

      Private jets are brutally expensive. Please let me know if you find a solution that is within the budgets of trench lawyers like us.

      This looks to me like a possible entrepreneurial opportunity: wide-scale private jet sharing for those of us who are less than überwealthy.

  4. Wendy Thomson says:

    I wear medical metal and have been subjected to EVERY TSA indignity that exists (oh! metal between knee and ankle? Grope the breasts and get inside her pants.) Disgusting. I refuse to fly. I refuse to submit to the TSA. To most of you it’s the chance you might be assaulted: to me it’s a veritable guarantee. Flying While Handicapped – the new Driving While Black.

  5. It’s not just airports. It’s amtrak. Here’s the official response to an incident in Georgia where they groped a 9 year old.

    http://blog.tsa.gov/2011/02/screening-of-passengers-at-savannah.html

  6. Wendy Thomson says:

    What I find interesting is the post-train trip search: it is actually unenforceable. The TSA needs your approval to search you and you can just say no. East Ohio Federal Court Judge Marbley stated in US v. Fofana that “Therefore, an airport security search is reasonable if: (1) the search is “no more extensive or intensive than necessary, in light of current technology, to detect the presence of weapons or explosives;” (2) the search “is confined in good faith to that purpose;” and (3) a potential passenger may avoid the search by choosing not to fly.” And furthermore, “In other words, the need for heightened security does not render every conceivable checkpoint search procedure constitutionally reasonable.” And “Warrantless and suspicionless airport screening searches are administrative searches and, therefore, exempt from the warrant requirement and constitutionally permissible if they are reasonable .2 See., e.g., United States v. Dalpiaz, 494 F.2d 374, 375 (6th Cir. 1974); Aukai, 497 F.3d at 958; United States v. Hartwell, 436 F.3d 174, 178 (3d Cir. 2006). This is so because they are conducted as part of a general regulatory scheme to prevent passengers from carrying weapons or explosives onto airplanes.” Note the word “ONTO”. Replace the word airplane with train and presto-chango, these post-trip searches are not administrative in nature and therefore require a warrant. JUST SAY NO.

    • Mark Bennett says:

      The cynic would say that the unenforceability of the train-station search was its point: having obtained compliance in airports (where the choice is be searched or don’t fly), the government is probing our compliance in other areas.

      At the train station the government saw what it wanted to see: the people failed the citizenship test.

      • Wendy Thomson says:

        True, very true. That being said, most people when caught unaware (as in the case of disembarking a train) do not have the luxury of thinking things through in a defensible way. Even Rose Parks’ bus action was premeditated. However, now that we know there is no excuse :-) My next thinking-through challenge: if the TSA boards a train half-way through a trip can they legally conduct a search of persons already on board? What happens if a boarded passenger refuses?

      • Lisa Simeone says:

        Oops — that “precisely” showed up at the wrong place! What I was trying to reply to was Mark’s assertion that the TSA is testing us, to see how much they can get away with. They’ve already shown they can get away with anything and everything at the airport. It was only a matter of time before they brought their abuse elsewhere. And once again, people are showing them that they can get away with anything.

        Grope my body? No problem. Molest my children? No problem. Coerce, threaten, intimidate me, and treat me like a piece of trash? No problem. Anything As Long As It Keeps Us Safe!

  7. Lisa Simeone says:

    “Wake up, America. The government may not be grooming your children—it may not have that particular bad intent—but it is grooming you.”

    Exactly. I’ve been writing and speaking publicly about TSA abuse for well over a year, to almost universal derision. I’ve used the words “grooming” and “conditioning” more times than I can count. But the sheeple don’t get it. They’re more concerned about convenience than their Constitutional rights. In fact, they’re more up in arms about not getting free peanuts, junk food, and a blanket on the plane than they are about being violated.

    I, too, have stopped flying entirely — an enormous sacrifice for me. But the 4th Amendment and my bodily integrity are worth more to me than travel, much as I adore it.

    Alas, we really do get the government we deserve.

    • Mark Bennett says:

      Speaking of junk food, TSA is just one of many instruments the government uses to make us more complacent.

      One example: The FDA’s recommended low-fat high-carb diet could have been designed to lower Americans’ testosterone levels and make them more sheeplike.

      • Mark Bennett says:

        The terms in which we’re encouraged to think about dangerous deviants—”predators”—makes us think of ourselves as “prey,” but when I suggest that the government actually desires that result, people start looking at me like I’m Jared Loughner.

      • Wendy Thomson says:

        LOL I’m not thinking I’m prey – and I agree that the government is invested in that self-view, as it allows for more government. And I am not thinking you’re Jared LOL. I have yet to really figure out why, for me, trying to sway my opinion with fear has the exact opposite effect… it only makes me totally disdainful of both the approach and of those that try to use it. Traveler’s – “taking the scary out of life.” See ‘ya.

  8. Cat Owens says:

    (I agree)

    I grew up and still live on a cattle ranch in a rural area. While it’s a wonderful place to raise my daughter (now 8), I was excited and looking forward to “showing her the world” as she grows up. Trips abroad to see the pyramids, Ireland, Europe, etc. – I wanted to instill in her a thirst for and understanding that there’s a huge world out there to see and experience.

    Now none of that will happen unless or until TSA de-pervs.

    This is so NOT the America we should leave our children and grandchildren…

  9. John Gibson says:

    I thought this may interest you.
    http://lpuk.blogspot.com/
    John Gibson

  10. Pingback: TSA Grooming Children and their Parents. « William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

  11. I agree with you that the TSA’s current actions are horrifying and unacceptable, but I wish you wouldn’t put it into such black and white terms for parents. I think characterizing parents who fly with their children as “The parents who bundle their children onto planes to hit the slopes set a price on the children’s rights to be left alone” is unfair. I think parents in this category are pretty uncommon, and even more uncommon are the parents who ask, “What’s the big deal?”

    I am pregnant with my first child right now, and planning my first plane trip with my child for a year and a half from now. My parents live on the opposite side of the country from me. I don’t want to fly. I looked at the possibility of driving out with my husband (can’t afford the vacation time for a cross-country road trip) taking the train with my husband (still can’t afford the time, and can’t at all afford the price) taking a train separate from my husband and letting him fly out alone (solves the time issue, but still can’t afford it) and driving out on my own (not gunna happen, seems unsafe). For me, the only reasonable way I can see to visit my parents is to fly, with my baby. Is this an emergency? No, of course not. But I also don’t think it’s fair to tell my parents that we will never visit them, that all burden of travel and seeing their grandchildren rests with them. I won’t do it.

    Certainly, the new TSA regulations have made me reconsider any non-essential travel. I hope protests will convince them to either change them, or for airports to ditch TSA altogether. I find the whole thing ridiculous, not to mention completely ineffective as a security measure. At this point, I really don’t know what I’ll tell my child/children when they’re old enough to be told anything, if they get selected for a pat down. I don’t know if I’ll let them be pat down or walk out of the airport and take the consequences. I really don’t know. And I respect that you may consider my priorities in choosing to fly with a child slanted wrong… but please don’t pretend it’s an easy decision, or a thoughtless one.

    • Mark Bennett says:

      I understand that it’s a tough decision. I don’t think a year-old child will be harmed by whatever the TSA does to her. She probably won’t even remember it.

    • Glenn_G says:

      Once we allowed the government to trade one of our freedoms for ‘safety’ we allowed them to take the rest. Regrettably, I do not think we will ever get away from what has been put into place. Once the government foot is in the door, there is no way to shut it again.

  12. Gavin Schmidt says:

    We are MUCH safer now than we were on 9/11. No one will ever again be able to smuggle the exact same weapon used by the hijackers onto a plane. Never again will be relying on poorly trained individuals using untested and ineffective tactics. We will defeat the enemy by employing the most sophisticated technologies available. What? DOOOOH!!! http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/queens/tsa_staff_jet_blew_it_Y7NcXScFd0oS2HNvkypthP

    • Mark Bennett says:

      “There have been a number of additional security layers that have been implemented on aircraft that would prevent someone from causing harm with boxcutters,” she insisted.
      “They include the possible presence of armed federal air marshals, hardened cockpit doors, flight crews trained in self-defense and a more vigilant traveling public who have demonstrated a willingness to intervene.”

      No shit. So stop freaking out and let us carry our boxcutters, Leatherman tools, and Swiss Army knives about the country like free people.

    • Glenn_G says:

      There is no such thing as safe air travel. I understand your comment is satirical, I only wished there were more of us out there that understand the facts of ‘safety’

      A determined individual can and will succeed in their mission 100% of the time. The idiots are who get caught.

  13. Lisa Simeone says:

    Re the TSA’s search at the Amtrak station in Savannah, the Amtrak police chief was when he found out, in his words, “livid”:

    TRAINS exclusive: Amtrak police chief bars Transportation Security Administration from some security operations

    “When I saw it, I didn’t believe it was real,” O’Connor said. When it developed that the posting on an anti-TSA blog was not a joke, “I hit the ceiling.”
    . . . There is no wanding of passengers and no sterile area. O’Connor said the TSA violated every one of these rules.

    http://cs.trains.com/TRCCS/forums/t/188504.aspx?PageIndex=1

    (The article contains some troubling info as well.)

  14. Mark Bennett says:

    Lisa, thanks for that.

    I wondered about the unsourced declaration that passengers were not funneled into the station; at least one verifiable first-person account (by Firefighter Brian Gamble at Guns and Hoses Travel) has it otherwise.

  15. Lisa Simeone says:

    FYI, all, here’s the Washington Post’s perfectly predictable, simpering editorial on random, warrantless bag searches on the DC Metro. Editor Fred Hiatt and buddies just love them some Big Brother security. They’re getting hammered in the comments, but I don’t think anything will change. We’re screwed:

    Metro’s bag checks: Necessary nuisance for a real threat

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/07/AR2011030704346.html

    • Mark Bennett says:

      But weighed against the threat to transit systems in this country and elsewhere, a bag check of 30 to 60 seconds is hardly an unreasonable inconvenience.

      The logic is dizzying.

  16. Glenn_G says:

    Mark, I haven’t flown since the Patriot Act, and have decided that I will never use the facilities of this nation’s airports again. I’ve found that, other than having to leave a day earlier, the drives are usually very nice to either coast. You get to see small interesting towns, and very nice woodlands (to the East). The drive Westward is awful long to be sure, however a swing through Colorado instead of NMexico could solve the doldrums.

    You are making a sound decision, and educating your kids along the way with the places, history, and scenery you are sure to encounter. Kudos to you and the family for standing firm on your ideals..

  17. Lisa Simpson says:

    And now that they’re warning of tampon bombs, where is the TSA going to start looking next?

    Worse yet, if you are female, you can claim to be muslim and you are exempt from the searching…..

    FLATLY DISGUSTING….

    Heil OBMAMA!

  18. Lisa Simeone says:

    First of all, Muslim women aren’t exempt from search. And, for about the hundredth time, let’s not turn this into a religious/ethnic-bashing thing. Not only does it play to people’s worst instincts (how many Americans were in favor of interning Japanese citizens during WWII?), it’s beside the point. These procedures are abusive to all of us.

    Terrorists aren’t idiots; they know that millions of Americans would just love to profile based on “Muslim-looking” (whatever that means) passengers. So they would simply recruit “non-Muslim-looking” people — like the blonde-haired, blue-eyed ‘Jihad Jane,’ Colleen LaRose, or Richard Reid the Shoe Bomber. That gambit would be easy to pull off. Let’s not delude ourselves that only swarthy people know how to plant a bomb.

    As for “Heil Obama,” yeesh. Yes, Obama has not only continued, but expanded, the worst practices and abuses of the Bush administration. But Michael Chertoff was Secretary of DHS under Bush, and when he left government he did PR for Rapiscan and lobbied heavily for implementation of their stripsearch scanners. Both Democrats and Republicans are at fault here, in the Executive branch and especially in Congress, where the level of cowardice, with few exceptions, has become so profound it’s almost not worth commenting on. This isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a civil liberties — and human rights — issue.

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