Trigger Warning: describes TSA’s invasive hand-pat-down procedures. Graphically. Seriously, don’t read this if you have a sexual abuse trigger.
Imani convinced me no one but abusers benefit from victims’ silence. Imani is the pseudonym I gave to one of the clients of the World Organization for Human Rights USA. Her story begins:
Imani’s story is told on her body: a scar on her ear, where her husband nearly tore it off with a slamming door; jagged gouges in her back where her husband pushed her onto a heap of broken glass; a deep, gnawing bite-mark on her wrist—her husband’s response when she told him she was too ill to have sex. Her story is written most clearly on her face: lines of grief for 23 years of torture and sexual abuse, fear for her two children left in the house of her abuser and their father in Cameroon, worry about starting a new life in the United States.
I went through half a dozen drafts where I was polite, euphemistic about the violence she lived through, the violations of her dignity and personhood she survived. Then I decided that I did her no kindness by hiding what happened. With her identity disguised, only her abuser would benefit from my veiling.
I was not a victim of the TSA, nor would I describe what happened to me yesterday as abuse, sexual or otherwise. But simply ending the story where I ended my tweet would protect a system which humiliates women and cancer survivors. Here’s that tweet:
Yep. TSA’s aggressive search did involve a stranger touching my junk and I do feel like my privacy was violated. My girl bits are mine! @JessiDG
Though I am not a victim, I find myself going through shadows of what a victim might feel. I demand of myself why I wore a skirt when I knew the agent would “have” to reach up into my crotch. Why I didn’t just let them take pictures of my nearly-naked body and avoid having to walk away from security, still feeling the agent’s hand between my legs. Why I bothered to come home for my grandmother’s 80th birthday, if it so easily lead to feeling small and cowed and hurt.
Self-blame is a form of self-control for me. If something is my fault, a friend’s sadness, a slow bus, an agent’s grope, then I feel better because I was in control.
Yesterday I was not in control.
Yesterday I was forced to be passive.
Yesterday a TSA agent touched my outer labia four times through my underwear, skirt, and two pairs of gloves. I could feel the bend in her fingers pressing into me, feel overwhelming relief when (on the third time) she only went up to my thigh barely grazing me, and shame when (on the fourth time) she pushed into me again.
If someone had even started what she finished on a bus, I would have broken her hand. Then her head. Strangers don’t get to touch me like that.
I filed no complaint about this [UPDATE: I did, thanks to the support of commenters and Twitter friends]. I’ve read the TSA’s blog posts about what how that search is supposed to feel, where they’re supposed to touch me, I knew it was firmly within the bounds that agency has laid out for itself. I have no faith that I would be taken seriously if I complained to the TSA.
As invasive and violative of my privacy as her touching was, I cannot begin to comprehend what it would have felt like for a survivor of rape or sexual abuse like Imani.
I do not believe it is within my government’s purview to harm the psyches of rape survivors, or be touching my junk.
“You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing.”–Thomas Sowell