11/24/2010 10:24 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

TSA, This Must Stop

C.S. Lewis once wrote, "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive... those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

As someone who was patted up, down, and everywhere around in early October at JFK (even before these measures were announced) I can say that not only are these activities of
TSA -- Transportation Sexual Abusers -- against the 4th amendment, they are an incredible misuse of funds that could be better utilized for creating secure data bases of passengers who have passed security review and therefore could bypass most if not all airport screenings. We could eliminate thousands of these pointless workers with their dirty blue gloves and scowling faces and establish what Israel has- an airport screening system that actually does keep the flying public safe. Of course that would require a government of intelligence and insight.

What the government officials from Barry "The buck stops with me" Obama, to Napolitano, to their underlings, do not seem to understand is that these activities of illicit search and seizure are the behaviors of a Pinochet, a Noriega, a Stroessner and governments who treat their citizenry with such contempt and scorn risk losing the sort of cooperation they will require if and when there is legitimate need for heightened security. (I just read that Napolitano is considering bringing these procedures to other transportation hubs as well.)

In my own case, I was "chosen" for a random pat down (a procedure the TSA has denied exists) after I heard an angry female voice on my right say to this guy on my left "I got one for you." How she arrived at this determination I have no idea for no alarm ever went off.

The rest was a sort of blur and, in full public view (it happened so fast I never had the chance to even choose the place) I was groped, pressed, lifted and squeezed in four or five series of 'pat downs' that took about four minutes but seemed endless. (Looking back on it, I think I would opt for public anyway, because at the very least you have witnesses if these poorly trained workers "snap" or become belligerent.)

After the "act" was finished, I kind of staggered out of the area with all my belongings in disarray, slung over my shoulder or wrapped around my neck, my shirt out, my shoes in my hands, my sweater trailing along the floor.

My first thought was I never want another pair of blue gloves touching me again, and my second thought was I really need a shower. And then fortunately my "professional" side snapped into place. I have been a psychologist for over thirty years and I started thinking 'if this stuff can send me into a loop' (albeit a temporary one, I think) what about individuals who don't have the training or even worse those who have been victims of sexual abuse? Out of the millions of air travelers how many thousands are we exposing to possible recurrence of symptoms for techniques that keep none of us safe?

For victims of sexual assault the problem is exacerbated, because airport screening areas are already places of heightened stress and anxiety. These situations raise the levels of stress related hormones in all of us, which stimulate the release of chemicals known as catecholamines. And high levels of these catecholamines are known to be associated with memories of traumatic past events. So what we are effectively doing with these screening procedures is placing emotionally fragile people in high stress situations, thus increasing the likelihood of traumatic memories to recur. Then to top it off, we send a complete stranger to physically abuse the person all over again. Then of course we tell her we are doing this for "her own good."

There have been some officials who deem these pat-downs as "slightly embarrassing" or "uncomfortable" but there is a vast difference between being embarrassed and feeling utterly violated. Embarrassment is when you are sitting in the doctor's office in your underwear and the nurse comes in to take your vitals. Personal violation is a whole other animal- one's physical and emotional space is trampled upon, and in such a manner that long after the episode is over one continues to feel violated and aggrieved.

From the woman who defiantly recounts the pawing and grabbing of her private parts even as her voice is quavering, to the man whose urine bag has ruptured, leaving him drenched in his own urine -- day after day, by the hundreds if not more, we are creating a teeming mass of broken, abased individuals who are fast becoming the new victims of "the war on terror."

This is my concern as I watch interview after interview while people express their moral outrage and disgust at what amounts to the betrayal of the pact between their government and themselves. A democratic government at the very least should do "no harm" to its citizenry.
Instead, we have decided to sacrifice some of our most psychologically and physically frail members as politicians cynically (yet with straight faces) declare that by "humiliating the many, we will find the needle in the haystack." How wrong, how bizarre, how revolting.