Transcript: Thom Hartmann talks to Erin Chase about her TSA patdown, more like a sexual assault, 18 Nov '10

Thom Hartmann: Last night we were talking on our TV show with, excuse me with Jane Hamsher about this. It’s, well, we’ve been talking about it every day for the last couple of days I guess. This is in the news, I experienced this myself going through the Chicago airport just a few weeks ago. I opted to get groped but the line, there was this long line to wait to get groped so they said you know you’ve got to wait 15 minutes because we’ve only got a certain number of gropers and so I went through the x-ray machine. And increased my risk of skin cancer instead, because I was in a hurry. But so I haven't had the groping experience. But Erin Chase has.

Erin Chase is the quintessential, all-American mom. She’s the author of the “Five Dollar Dinner Mom Cookbook," 5DollarDinners.com the website. And Erin, I understand, welcome to our program.

Erin Chase: Hi, thanks for having me.

Thom Hartmann: Thanks for showing up. I understand that you were going through an airport with your child, with an infant? Do I have that right?

Erin Chase: Yes, that’s correct. I was flying from the Dayton International Airport on Friday, this past Friday evening, with my 11-month-old baby. I was traveling with a special needs formula for him that comes in a can, so I did have that with me and I fly with him every couple of weeks and so I’m fully aware of what I can and cannot bring through security and how I need to put it in the x-ray machine and I did all of those things correctly.

Thom Hartmann: Sure.

Erin Chase: Didn’t set off anything in the metal detector, didn’t have anything that was you know, alerted them, as my belongings went through the x-ray machine. Came out the other side and one of the agents picked up the tub with the baby formula which I expected them to do. They then, another agent helped her and brought the rest of my belongings over to the security screening tables where they do the paper disks for the explosives testing. There are a series of tables, it’s in the shape of an L, I was in the corner of the L, right in the middle of everything. Every passenger that came through security would have walked by me.

She put my things down and she turned and asked me you know are you aware of the new policies for bringing liquids through security that were instated four years ago. I told her that I was, I travel with my baby every couple of weeks with his formula or his juice. A couple seconds later she told me to take my shoes off and step onto the black mat for a pat down, that I needed to spread my feet apart, hold my arms out. I was holding my baby at the time. I asked what to do with the baby, she said I couldn’t be holding him, so I put him into his stroller.

You know then the pat down. She just came over to me, started patting down my arms and my back, my lower back. She moved around to the side of me, reached, she did instruct me that she was going to do this. She said she was going to reach inside of my waist band and feel all the way around the waist, all the way around you know the waistline of my blue jeans. So she did that. And of course I, sort of, was onto alert then because I had never seen or heard that being done before. I, she then moved around to the back, did the back, did my buttocks area. She did not tell me she was going to touch me there. She moved around to the front and she touched the tops and underneath of both of my breasts with the palm of her hand and again she did not tell me she was going to do that as part of the search. And she moved to the bottoms of my legs and came all the way up on my inner thighs until she touched my private parts on both sides of my thighs. And again she did not tell me she was going to be touching me in my private areas.

Thom Hartmann: Literally she was touching your genitals.

Erin Chase: yes, she did touch on both, both sides of my inner thighs, she touched my genital area. I, at, towards the end of the pat down procedure my baby was starting to climb out of the stroller. I was not allowed to pick him up or to sit him back down. Another TSA agent saw what was happening and came over to him and sort of was making you know faces at him to try to keep him from climbing out. She didn’t actually touch him. But I wasn’t allowed to pick him up until it was over. So you know she said I asked if I could pick up the baby, she replied yes. Then she went over to another agent was scanning, doing the paper disk explosive test for my diaper bag, while I was being patted down.

I was not presented with an official witness. If there was a witness, I did not know there was a witness. I was not told this agent right here will be witnessing this. I was not offered a private screening room. She claims she did offer me that but she did not. It was done out in the middle of everyone. I didn’t even, you know, I didn’t know about the new procedure. I didn’t know that on October 28th they instated this new you know body scanner or if you opt out you get the pat down.

Thom Hartmann: The grope down.

Erin Chase: The grope down, yes. I didn’t know, the airline gave me no information when I booked my ticket that this had changed, there was no information on the front side of security that this was going on. And there was…

Thom Hartmann: Erin, what was your response to being groped?

Erin Chase: One more piece before I get there.

Thom Hartmann: Oh sure.

Erin Chase: There is no body scanner in the Dayton airport. I did not have another option. I was completely forced into this situation. You know, to be honest, I thought I was going to be wanded. I thought that was what was going to happen, as just sort of a random wanding if you will. So my response was you know while it was happening I went into shock. I clearly remember everything I was thinking while it was going on, but nothing was coming out of my mouth. And obviously that’s very frustrating. And I’ve gotten a lot of criticism for that, and people don’t understand that I just froze. I was being sexually assault. I wasn’t told, it was against my will, I had no knowledge of it, I was being touched in my private areas, in places only that my husband should be touching me, by a stranger without knowledge. You know, it just, it’s, it was, I just froze, I went into shock.

Thom Hartmann: Did you feel violated?

Erin Chase: I picked up the baby… I felt completely violated, I felt raped is what I felt. I felt violated. I’m not a victim of sexual abuse, so I obviously don’t know, but that’s how I felt in that situation.

Thom Hartmann: Can you imagine how much worse this must be for someone who has been through rape or sexual abuse?

Erin Chase: No, and you know what I’ve read an account of a woman who is a survivor of rape and she was just, had to go through this, and was in hysterics following screening, crying as it was going on.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah there was a pilot who got groped like this and he threw up.

Erin Chase: Right. And you know, and I, I wanted to throw up. After it happened, after I, I picked up the baby, I stood there for what, I don’t know how long, it felt like a minute as she finished my belongings and I just stood there. And I started to, you know I got my bag down maybe and I put, you know, and I just was like no that is not okay. And another TSA agent who was not involved in the situation…

Thom Hartmann: Erin, pardon my interrupting but we only have 30 seconds until a hard break, the machine is going start the music. In this last 30 seconds. What are you doing and what’s your advice to the rest of us?

Erin Chase: You know, you have to make that decision for yourself. You have to decide, if you’re forced into the situation because you are, whether or not to go through the scanner or to be groped and that’s a decision that every American is being forced to make. And it’s unfortunate. It’s a pornographic image or sexual assault. And you know it’s just not okay, it’s not right.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. As a one million mile flyer on United and a 2 million mile flyer on Delta I have called both airlines and said that I’m not flying next year.

Erin Chase: Yeah, I’ve called my airline that I fly as well and it old them that I need to cancel my next flight.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. And I think that that’s what it’s going to take. I think it’s going to take enough of us just as saying you know, just cancel my flights, I’m not going, to make it happen. Erin Chase, 5DollarDinners.com, your real world work. Erin, thanks so much for sharing your story with us. I know it must have been difficult.

Erin Chase: Thank you for having me, I appreciate it, thank you.

Thom Hartmann: And thank you for speaking out. It’s important stuff. We’ll be right back.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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