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    Many Women Say Airport Pat-Downs Are a Humiliation

    Published: November 23, 2004

    At a security checkpoint recently at the Fort Lauderdale airport, Patti LuPone, the singer and actress, recalled, she was instructed to remove articles of clothing. "I took off my belt; I took off my clogs; I took off my leather jacket," she said. "But when the screener said, 'Now take off your shirt,' I hesitated. I said, 'But I'll be exposed.' " When she persisted in her complaints, she said, she was barred from her flight.


    Heather L. Maurer, a business executive from Washington, had a similar experience at Logan Airport in Boston recently. And a few weeks ago, Jenepher Field, 71, who walks with the aid of a cane, was subjected to a breast pat-down at the airport outside Kansas City, Mo.

    These women and a good many others, both frequent and occasional travelers, say they are furious about recent changes in airport security that have increased both the number and the intensity of pat-downs at the nation's 450 commercial airports. And they are not keeping quiet.

    In dozens of interviews, women across the country say they were humiliated by the searches, often done in view of other passengers, and many said they had sharply reduced their air travel as a result.

    The new security policies on body searches were put into practice in mid-September, after a terrorist attack in Russia a few weeks before that destroyed two planes, killing 90 people. Two Chechen women were thought to have carried nonmetallic explosives onto the planes, officials said. It is not known whether the explosives were hidden in the women's clothing, or whether the women merely boarded unimpeded, carrying the explosives.

    But the Transportation Security Administration in the United States, already worried that metal detectors could not pick up nonmetallic explosives, issued new regulations requiring airport screeners to conduct more frequent and more intense secondary searches and pat-downs.

    The agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, declined to break down the percentage of searches conducted by gender, but a spokeswoman said it did not treat women differently from men under the policy. While some men have complained about the groping nature of the searches, women object the most. Several women interviewed said that male colleagues had scoffed at their complaints, saying that a physical pat-down was a small price to pay for security.

    "I laugh when men tell me that," said Betty Spence, president of the National Association for Female Executives, who says she has been selected for pat-downs several times in the last month on trips from New York to Chicago, Washington and Miami on various airlines. "Men don't know how offensive it is to be touched by anyone when you don't want to be touched."

    She said she had switched to driving whenever she could.

    Amy Von Walter, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, said: "The pat-downs were put in place to address T.S.A.'s abilities to detect explosives at the checkpoint. That was a key recommendation by the 9/11 Commission."

    With such a new procedure, she said, the agency expected complaints. So far, it has received about 250, with the numbers trending downward in recent weeks, she said.

    None of the complaints have been resolved so far nor have any penalties been imposed.

    But dozens of women are now publicly sharing their experiences of being examined in uncomfortable ways, suggesting that the complaints were more widespread than the official count.

    As many as 15 percent of the estimated two million daily passengers are chosen for secondary screenings, including pat-downs, Ms. Von Walter said, and these do not count people who set off metal detectors when passing through security, who are automatically wanded.

    Under the previous rules, travelers were randomly selected for secondary screenings or taken aside if they set off metal detectors. Security would ask travelers to remove their shoes and coats, and then use a magnetometer to scan their bodies. Carry-ons were inspected by hand.

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