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.