Thursday, July 7, 2011

Special Report: Coping with Post Screening Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTSD) after TSA Pat Downs


SAN NARCISO, Calif. -- With Wednesday’s announcement that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would begin implementing what Administrator John Pistole called “a more comprehensive hands-on approach” to airport screenings, doctors with San Narciso County’s Office of Health and Human Services (OHHS) prepared a special report to help victims of physically invasive TSA searches cope with life after the experience. Dr. Hilarus Lustig, chief psychologist for the OHHS, issued the report Thursday, saying that a growing number of Bennington Vale and Santa Calcetines residents have returned from area airports exhibiting symptoms of “Post Screening Traumatic Stress Disorder,” a debilitating condition his team has been studying for the last ten years. County citizens are encouraged to report incidences of PSTSD to the OHHS. Those suffering from the disorder should seek immediate medical attention.

The TSA, having already allowed agents to pat down children and adults across more delicate areas of their bodies, said increasingly intrusive screening procedures would become necessary to detect explosives surgically implanted in the bodies of terrorists. Research conducted by the Office of Health and Human Services suggests that these enhanced gropings, fondlings and pat downs pose serious health threats to travelers.

Effects and aftermath of Post Screening Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTSD) can include both physical trauma and psychological trauma. However, physical groping is not necessarily used in TSA screenings, and physical damage is not always a consequence. Though no deaths from PSTSD have occurred in San Narciso County, we suspect the prevalence of fatalities to vary considerably across the world as more data about the condition becomes available. For TSA screened passengers, the most common consequences of PSTSD are those related to mental health and social well-being.

Physical Response to TSA Gropings
Common physical injuries sustained by TSA screening victims include:

  • Genital irritation
  • E-coli
  • Viral infections
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Nausea
  • Uncontrolled expectoration and profanity (note: OHHS analysts are still working to discover whether a link between PSTSD and Tourette’s Syndrome exists)

Physically manifested neurological injuries include:

  • Agoraphobia (fear of leaving home, decreased desire to see or be part of the world)
  • Aviatophobia (fear of planes or flying or authority figures related to aviation industries)

Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Violent or forced TSA gropings can increase the risk of transmitting HIV or whatever sexually transmittable disease the TSA agent may be carrying. These agents are often uneducated, unclean, incomprehensible, malodorous, minimum wage workers from economically diverse communities who were discharged from jobs in food service or sanitation. Training programs involve little more than teaching screeners how to instruct passengers to remove specific articles of clothing. There are no hygiene standards covered or enforced by the government for TSA employees, a situation common throughout many agencies (e.g., Department of Motor Vehicles, Postal Service, EPA).

In forced TSA cavity searches -- most often performed on those victims least capable of resisting, such as the very young or elderly -- abrasions and cuts commonly occur, thus facilitating the entry of viruses through the mucosa. Adolescent girls are particularly susceptible to infection through forced TSA pat downs.

Invasive TSA screenings in childhood or adolescence increase the victim’s likelihood of engaging in unprotected sex, having multiple partners, participating in sex work*, and substance abuse.

People who experience TSA pat downs in intimate relationships often develop deep mistrust of their partners, from whom they begin to fear violence. This is particularly evident when their partners are wearing any kind of uniform, but especially so when those uniforms imply only a passing sense of limited authority, such as a mall security guard or movie theater usher.

*As a corollary, those victims who admitted to sex work explained that they did so not because the TSA experience had destroyed their sense of healthy sexuality, but because prostitution seemed to offer greater benefits to society than airport screenings.

Self Blame
Self blame is the most common trait of PSTSD. It is also a victim’s primary avoidance coping skill. Although it significantly inhibits the healing process, it can be remedied by a therapy technique known as cognitive restructuring.

There are two types of self blame: behavioral and characterological.

Victims who experience behavioral self blame convince themselves that they should have done something differently while standing in airport security lines, and therefore feel at fault for the sexual battery they suffered during the TSA groping. Common expressions of blame manifest themselves in questions such as, “Was it something I was wearing?” “Did my lack of carry-on baggage create the impression that I was asking for it?” or “Should I have removed my underpants when the TSA agent stuffed his dirty sausage fingers into my crotch?”

Conversely, victims who experience characterological self blame adopt a more introverted, and perhaps detrimental, point of view. These victims believe that there is something inherently wrong with them, and that they therefore “deserved” the TSA screening abuse visited upon them.

Unfortunately, shame tends toward anger. When people are shamed, they become motivated to seek revenge against their attackers. In this context, we fear that self blame could actually drive an innocent victim to an act of terrorism at an airport.

Childhood and adulthood victims of TSA pat downs appear more likely to attempt or commit suicide. Interestingly, they are not at all likely to commit an act of suicide bombing, which is the justification for the abusive security screenings that led to their PSTSD.

Secondary Victimization
TSA pat downs, as all forms of sexual violation, can be especially stigmatizing in cultures with strong customs and taboos regarding sexuality. For example, a TSA screening victim may be viewed by her native society as “damaged” or “impure.” Victims in these cultures may suffer isolation, be disowned by friends and family, be prohibited from marrying, be divorced if already married, or even killed.

Secondary victimization is especially common in cases where the passenger was well known to the TSA screeners as a frequent traveler.

Victim Blaming
In the context of TSA screenings, “victim blaming” refers to the attitude that certain victim behaviors (such as failing to place the laptop case in a separate container, failing to remove one’s belt, carrying a bottle of suntan lotion with more than three ounces inside, not producing one’s ID fast enough, initiating polite conversation with the TSA agent, etc.) may have encouraged the assault.

People who believe that the world is intrinsically fair may find it difficult or impossible to accept a situation in which a person is patted down by the TSA for no reason. This leads to a sense that victims must have done something to deserve their fate.

Another theory entails the psychological need to protect one’s sense of invulnerability, which can inspire people to believe that TSA gropings happen exclusively to those who provoke the assault. Subscribers to this belief exploit that rationale as a means to feel safer: If one avoids the behaviors of the past victims, the theory goes, one will be less vulnerable. However, government officials warn that nothing can prevent any passenger from being physically molested by grungy urban youths in TSA uniforms when such actions prevent terrorism.

The TSA’s chief administrator, John Pistole, used the analogy of cutting off a finger to save a hand: “Americans may have to sacrifice a few individual liberties and suspend their rights under the Fourth Amendment in order to preserve their overarching freedoms. If I told you that your health and safety would be assured for the rest of your life if you agreed to being raped a couple of times, wouldn’t you just give in and get it over with, for a lifetime of peace of mind? And that’s what the TSA is offering Americans: peace of mind; nothing more, nothing less.”

(c) 2011. All stories are works of satire and parody.