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For sexual crime victims, TSA pat-downs can be 're-traumatizing'

The TSA's latest efforts to increase airport security include 'enhanced' pat-downs that have been criticized as invasive. Rape counselors advise that victims know their rights to protect themselves.

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A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) worker rubs her hands across a female traveler's chest during the 'enhanced' pat-down search at Denver International Airport Nov. 23. Passengers who have experienced sexual trauma may have difficulty with the TSA's new search protocols.

Rick Wilking / Reuters

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As the outcry grows against the new security screenings at US airports, one population may face a special burden at TSA checkpoints: victims of rape or sexual assault who are now confronted with a procedure that they feel explicitly strips them of control over their bodies.

The experience “can be extremely re-traumatizing to someone who has already experienced an invasion of their privacy and their body,” says Amy Menna, a counselor and professor at the University of South Florida who has a decade’s experience researching and treating rape survivors.

Nationwide, an estimated 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, according to a consensus of figures compiled by the Department of Justice, FBI, and Centers for Disease control. About a quarter of a million people each year report a sexual assault.

Dr. Menna recommends that people know their rights so that they can avoid the sense of powerlessness when going through a security check.

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