The day before Thanksgiving — this year, Nov. 24 — is the busiest travel day of the year. Nationwide, about 24 million passengers are expected to catch flights during the holiday, according to airlines.org. This year, Thanksgiving travel could be particularly hectic since Nov. 24 has been declared National Opt-Out Day. Instead of walking through “Advance Imaging Technology” (AIT) machines (revealing body scanners), travelers are encouraged to say “I opt out,” and instead they will receive an enhanced pat-down.
The motive behind the opt-out isn’t that passenger prefer the pat-down to the body scanners. It is to send a message to lawmakers that citizens demand a change — a balance between security and privacy.
CALCASA has signed a letter about TSA screening methods that is going to the White House. The most recent draft of the letter states that “these screenings include invasive procedures that may cause survivors of sexual violence to be traumatized. Additionally, we believe these new screening procedures violate an individual’s rights to feelings of personal safety and security. We strongly encourage the TSA to cease the use of these procedures immediately.”
Candy Stallings, Executive Director of San Bernardino Sexual Services, said that it is important to have control of this situation and to increase one’s knowledge about the new policies. Although the agency has had some survivors cancel travel plans because of the new policies, Stallings said that counselors are discussing options with survivors who have increased anxiety about the security procedures. This has resulted in survivors having less anxiety overall, and they reported that they were not selected for a search.
In San Luis Obispo, Jeanette Page, a Crisis Services Advocate at the Sexual Assault Recovery & Prevention Center, said that the new TSA policy jeopardizes safety for everyone.
“I’ll say what I’ve been saying: Policies that give passengers the choice between overly revealing scanners or being groped by TSA agents do not keep us safe,” she said.
If you’re an airport traveler tomorrow — or anytime — know your rights:
- You can opt-out of walking through the AIT body scanner. By doing so, you choose to receive a pat-down by an inspector of the same gender.
- When receiving a pat-down, you can request a private area which will include privacy screens/curtains or a separate room.
- When receiving a pat-down, you can choose a person that you are comfortable with to accompany you and witness the procedure.
- TSA personnel are required to explain the procedure before and during the pat-down.
CALCASA believes “that our national security mechanisms should not cause thousands of travelers each day to relive or experience sexual trauma. In a culture wherein we encourage our children, and our fellow citizens, to speak up if anyone touches them in an inappropriate manner, we want to encourage a society wherein feeling safe also includes mutual respect and dignity.”
For information that advocates and survivors can use about the TSA pat-downs, download CALCASA’s Fact Sheet.