TSA Screenings Worry Sexual-Assault Survivors

Could the new pat-downs and body scans again traumatize men and women recovering from an attack?
Newsweek
Nov. 21, 2010

For women and men who have already been sexually assaulted, the new screening rules--or just the threat of these rules--present a very real danger. They can be triggering events, setting off a posttraumatic-stress reaction. "I started crying. It was so intimate, so horrible. I feel like I was being raped," an anonymous rape survivor recounted on a Minnesota blog. Melissa Gibbs, a spokeswoman for We Won't Fly, a group protesting the new regulations, says that a rape survivor she spoke to had a panic attack as an agent began touching her leg.

"After a sexual assault, it seems that many survivors have difficulty having their bodies touched by other people," says Shannon Lambert, founder of the Pandora Project, a nonprofit organization that provides support and information to survivors of rape and sexual abuse. This fear of contact even extends to partners and, often, medical professionals. "A lot of survivors do not want to be in positions where they're vulnerable. They put up defenses so that they can be in control of their body. In cases like this, it seems like some of that control is going away."

If that sense of control is violated, it can lead to more than hurt feelings. There's a physical reaction associated with a triggering incident, and the response can vary from person to person. "It could lead to a person shutting down and becoming noncommunicative, it could result in a person becoming emotionally upset, it could trigger flashbacks, not just the thoughts and feelings they experienced, but perhaps other sensory experiences," says Jennifer Marsh, director of the National Sexual Assault Hotline for the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).

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