I Speak Foxye

Sexual Abuse and Airport Security

Sexual Abuse and Security

The non-threatening experience of going through airport security can become an emotional trigger of past traumas.

Sexual abuse has immediate and long-term effects. My trip through airport security reminded of how my childhood sexual abuse and trauma continues to affect me in adulthood. The unsettling part is that I never know when those effects are going to be triggered.

“Put your long necklaces around to the back if you don’t want them to pat you down.” I did as she instructed and pulled my three stone necklaces around to my back. I stepped into the x-ray tube. I lined my feet up with the yellow outlines and placed my bent arms over my head. The machine whirled and stopped, signaling for me to get out. I walked over and stopped by the Transportation Security Agent (TSA). I often get an additional search or questioning because of my jewelry. 

“Step over there so she can pat you down,” the agent said, after seeing the results of my scan. On the scan screen, yellow boxes covered my left wrist, left hand, and my back. My back! My first thoughts were, “she told me they wouldn’t pat me down if I turned my long necklaces around to my back. And now this woman TSA agent is about to pat me down!” 

She asked me to hold out my left arm. Looking over my stone bracelets, she rubbed her hands across them. Then she rubbed the ring on my left hand and then asked me to turn my hand over. I did as I was told. Then she went to the right arm. That was short-lived because I do not wear jewelry on that arm. “Turn around, please.” I turned around and she began to run her hands over my back, feeling for something that created the yellow boxes on the screen. 

“Ok. You’re good to go.” I grab my belongings and notice my bag with my camera and purse have not come through the scanner yet. I look back and notice two TSA agents looking at the scan screen and pointing. The guy sitting down hands my bag to the guy standing next to him. That guy walks over to me, with my bag in hand.

“Are there any sharp items or weapons in the bag?” I replied by shaking my head side to side, and saying, “no.” From my perspective, he had just looked in the bags with the X-ray scanner and should have known the answer to his question. He proceeded to go through the items in my purse. The search became more invasive as he resorted to removing items from my purse. He found what he was looking for. It was my blue apatite stone heart. 

He turned the stone side to side and placed it back in my purse. He also returned the the other items he had removed. “Ok. thank you,” he said as he handed my bags to me. I gathered my belongings and walked over to one of the metal benches. For a moment, I sat there in a daze. I removed items from my personal bag, rearranged items in my carry-on suitcase, and then packed them all back. It felt like I was in slow motion. Just that quickly, I was in a mental sexual assault and violation.

What do I mean by mental sexual assault and violation? The agent said do this and you won’t get the pat down. I did what she said because I did not want them touching me but they did a pat down anyway. My heart-shaped stone made the other agents search my purse, something private. Not only did they search it, they removed personal items from it. I felt others could have seen my personal items had they been paying attention. I felt powerless and on display, just as I did when I was sexually assaulted in the past. The only exception was this was happening in my mind, in my perception of events, based on previous experiences. 

In the past, I was blamed for my sexual abuse and put on display in the community newspaper. The locals gossiped about me. There were event times when I was punished for someone else’s actions. All these experiences culminated into this common airport experience becoming a trigger. Triggers are events, smells, tastes, words, sounds, sights, and sensations that trigger a memory of another experience. Sometimes that experience is a positive one; many times it is not. Here, these normal actions triggered memories of sexual abuse, of having someone touch me and penetrate me without my permission. At that moment, I had to decide what to do with those feelings. 

The purpose of the TSA is to keep us safe as we travel by airplanes. They were taking responsibility for their job. I had to sit down and replay what had just happened. I had to feel those emotions, so I could take responsibility for my healing from my sexual abuse. Though they were the trigger, they were not responsible for my response to my trauma. While I was rearranging my luggage contents, I realized why I became so irritated every time I went through security. It is because it reminds me of the trauma of being touched and disrobed without my permission.

I have gone through airport security countless times. However, I never made this connection between my past sexual traumas and the emotions elicited when going through airport security. Although I now understand why I have felt this way, I have not completely released that anxiety. The success is that I am able to talk myself through the experience and avoid re-traumatizing myself. 

My hope is that this excerpt of my life will help you evaluate experiences that bring up seemingly unwarranted emotions. Our feelings are valid though we are responsible for our trauma responses. Even though our responsive actions may be rooted in past trauma, we must still hold ourselves accountable to find wellness. My therapist is to thank for that realization. My therapist, journal, and self-reflection are always helpful in this journey. The following video has additional tools.

#ispeakfoxye #begentlewithyourhealing #foxyejackson


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