By Shannyn Moore
We’re Alaskans. We fly.
I don’t like it, but with 80 percent of our communities off the road system, flying is a necessary part of our lives.
Last month, Rep. Sharon Cissna, a survivor of both physical abuse and breast cancer, refused an invasive TSA pat-down at SeaTac. Instead of flying, she returned to Juneau by ferry. I reported her story on my radio show with a lump in my throat. She’s an Alaska hero.
I am not.
I recently returned from Washington, D.C., where I’d celebrated Bristol Bay salmon, met Erin Brockovich, attended a reception with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, bore witness to the blooming cherry blossoms and visited family.
On departure day, I got to Reagan International early and made my way through security.
Not the old metal detectors, but the new graphic x-ray scanners. Lines were full of willing, compliant passengers; legs spread, arms in the air, photographed by our government. Recently, thousands of scans were anonymously posted on the Internet.
A man barked directions as I displayed my ticket and ID. He didn’t look at me. He scribbled on my ticket and I moved through. I braced myself. I watched children pass through the scanner. If a teacher was caught with those pictures on his computer, he’d be arrested. But here, it’s legalized porn; the TSA’s in charge.
Finally, it was my turn. I requested the old-school machine. You’d have thought I’d screamed, “I have a bomb in my shoe and another in my panties!”
“We need a female assist,” a man boomed while he grabbed my arm and walked me through. I was told I couldn’t touch my belongings. A woman walked toward me, pulling on her gloves. The male supervisor stood behind me. People gathered their belongings and walked past, staring.
I’m not sure when I started to shake. I explained I wasn’t comfortable being touched. The man laughed. I said in a smaller voice than normal, “I don’t want you to touch me.” The woman said she would be the one touching. She told me to extend my arms. She inspected my hair and neck first.
I started to cry.
I wanted so much to be brave. I was told I could be escorted out of the airport. “I live in Alaska,” I said. Like that would explain something. As though he would know that flying isn’t optional for us and shoo me though.
They seemed angry at me. The search continued. My shoulders. My arms. My back.
“Put your hands out, ma’am.”
They were over my face, and I was sobbing.
People were watching.
“Let’s move her to a private room.” They gathered my things and another woman accompanied us to a small room.
“I don’t want you to touch me,” I said again.
It didn’t matter. Latex fingers felt under my bra, inside my waistband, all with a Southern accent narrating. “Now I’ll touch your breasts. Now your stomach.” It went on. “Now turn around.”
When she touched the part of my leg where it meets my torso, I heaved. They offered me a Kleenex. I could not stand properly from the shaking, nausea and sobbing.
“OK, we need this room,” the supervisor said. “Time to finish up.”
I was now deemed safe enough to fly the friendly skies.
I looked at the second woman who had searched me. She looked away.
“I’ve been raped,” I said. I wasn’t speaking figuratively. A lot of Alaska women have suffered rape. I’m one of them.
Someone once told me, “They got 20 minutes; don’t give them the rest of your life.” I took that to heart. I became an advocate for abused women. I made love with the lights on and didn’t date men with beards. I moved myself from the “rape victim” to “rape survivor” column.
A couple who had been behind me in line waited 20 minutes for me to come through. She asked if I was OK. Could they help me to my gate? I was still crying. I handed her my ticket. He took my bag. I didn’t look at either one of them. She said she understood.
No one should have to choose between invasive visual procedures or sexual assault. TSA agents are not sworn officers; they are civilians. Were another traveler to grab your crotch at the airport, you could prosecute him. We pay these people to do it.
I don’t want special treatment. I don’t need a special pass. I don’t want privilege. The Fourth Amendment should be sufficient. No American, no Alaskan should have to be molested to fly on an airplane.
It’s been almost 10 years since 9/11. I was “gate raped” by my government, and Osama Bin Laden is still at large.
I guess he can unfurl the “Mission Accomplished” banner now.
Originally printed in the Anchorage Daily News