Recently, I took a trip to visit my parents. I’m not what one would call a “frequent flier,” but this was not by any means my first flight. Nevertheless, no one had bothered to inform me that passing through security would constitute a sexual assault in any other context. In fact, I’d have hardly believed what constitutes standard practice had I not experienced this process first-hand. It was a nightmare.
It all started when I was ushered into a contraption I had never seen before. “Place your hands on the panel and spread your legs, sir,” the assistant said. I very quickly realized that a fully nude x-ray picture of myself had likely just been taken without my permission. I was not pleased, but figured this excursion was over. This assumption proved to be highly incorrect. The machine must have shown something suspect, because without a word of explanation, a large security guard began running his hands (palm-down) up and down my body. By now I was approaching livid, as I’d just been invaded twice in a way I viewed as unconstitutional.
Unfortunately, my experience wasn’t over. I hadn’t taken any carry-on bags with me in the past. But to save money, I decided not to check my bag for this flight. Upon attempting to retrieve my carry-on I was informed that my shampoo, hair gel, and other products were banned. My options: disregard my luggage or check my bags and proceed through security again. All of my offending luggage was thrown away.
During this bagging excursion, I took the opportunity to ask the guard what the machine had just done. After his explanation, I responded: “So there’s a single individual in a dark disconnected room somewhere staring at a nude photo of me? That’s just creepy.” I realized the other passengers felt similarly invaded when I heard a wave of laughter. One person wasn’t amused: The guard.
The experience was demoralizing to say the least. I am hardly a “space person” or prude. Being invaded in front of large groups of strangers, however, does not represent an appropriate exercise of security. Wands or back-of-hand pat searches I can handle, but this felt more invasive than a doctor visit. After the experience, I plan on doing my part to prevent such practices from becoming institutional. What can be done in the name of “security” must have a limit.