Is it okay for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to use their guise of “safety” in order to excessively pat down an innocent 13-year-old? One mother has filed a complaint with the TSA for doing such a thing to her son.
Jennifer Williamson recently took to Facebook in an angry post about treatment she and her 13-year-old son had experienced from the TSA at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, saying they were “treated like dogs.” Her son, Aaron, went through security and set off no alarms from the body scanner and yet, he was still subjected to a full body pat down from a TSA agent. When Williamson asked if he could be screened a different way due to his sensory processing disorder, she was denied. The video she took on her phone of the pat down shows the TSA agent following procedure, explaining exactly what he would be doing, and then preforming the pat down. The whole ordeal, which she describes as “horrifying,” took over an hour, causing them to miss their flight.
From Williamson’s post:
“We have been through hell this morning. They detained Aaron for well over an hour at DFW. (And deliberately kept us from our flight… we are now on an alternate) … Let me make something else crystal clear. He set off NO alarms. He physically did not alarm at all during screening, he passed through the detector just fine. He is still several hours later saying “I don’t know what I did. What did I do?” I am livid. Please, share… make this viral like the other children’s videos with TSA… I wish I had taped the entire interchange because it was horrifying. We had two DFW police officers that were called and flanking him on each side. Somehow these power tripping TSA agents who are traumatizing children and doing whatever they feel like without any cause, need to be reined in.”
Earlier this month, we were warned in a statement from TSA that their pat down procedures were being revamped:
Apparently, using only the back of the hand across sensitive areas is no longer enough for the TSA. Yes, I’m sure most agents will still use proper training and not abuse this new access but even still, who wants to have a stranger’s hand pass over their sensitive areas? In an interview Williamson gave to CBS, she states she felt the agent, who used the back of his hand, had passed over her son’s sensitive areas “a little more than necessary, especially given that he wasn’t wearing any bulky clothing or anything like that.”
I can tell you from recent personal experience how awkward these pat downs feel. Just a few months ago I was flagged for this same type of pat down as I went through security at the Salt Lake City International Airport. During mine, the female TSA agent acted the same way as the agent in Williamson’s video, following protocol. At one point, procedure for agents is to go down your leg. I was shocked to feel that my agent had started way higher on my leg than I realized she would. So high, that I felt she invaded my “personal area” of the crotch. So even though she used the back of her hand to go over my butt and lap, the leg part still felt violating. So it’s no wonder that Williamson was livid, seeing this same procedure being used on her son. For them, it was even more of a nightmare because her son has Sensory Processing Disorder, and he’s particularly sensitive to touch.
“We were treated like dogs because I requested they attempt to screen him in other ways per TSA rules. He has SPD and I didn’t want my child given a pat down like this.”
She says that Aaron’s first question was, “I don’t understand why they did this? What did I do wrong?” This was something Williamson took as a sign that he felt traumatized.
Why was Aaron submitted to this ordeal if he hadn’t set off any alarms and seemed to pose no threat? Why wasn’t he given an alternative way to be screened? Why did it take so long? Did it really take over an hour or is that an angry mom exaggerating to make her point? These are all questions many viewers have been asking since Williamson’s video went viral. TSA said in a statement that the pat down took 2 minutes and 43 minutes to explain procedures and screen three of their bags. In my opinion, the agents probably didn’t like that the mother was asking for alternative procedures or filming the pat down, so they may have intentionally slowed down the process, knowing Williamson and her son had a plane to catch.
Many viewers have accused Williamson of blowing this out of proportion, since everyone hates dealing with airport security. But most of us get through security without a problem; she and Aaron didn’t. From the extended wait time, to the denial of an alternative screening method, to the need for a pat down in the first place, this whole experience sounds dreadful for poor Aaron. Regardless if this is a case of a mad, Mama-Bear exaggerating a few points in the experience (were they really treated “like dogs?”) or not, it is still awful that Aaron was submitted to a pat down his mother felt would traumatize him. And it is still a great example to show TSA that they need to get their act together when deciding what will really keep us safe.
If a 13-year-old boy with SPD, who never set off an alarm during a body scanner, can’t be screened faster than 45 minutes, there’s a serious problem here. And if the TSA agents can’t determine this young boy was no threat from his original clear body scan and insist a pat down is necessary (a pat down that can now include the front of their hands), what hope do the rest of us have? What’s next?
TSA has not responded to Williamson’s complaint request yet.