A woman is suing the federal government, saying she was sexually assaulted when a security screening at a North Carolina airport led to a groin search under her clothing.
The lawsuit was filed last week in US District Court for the Western District of North Carolina alleging civil battery by the United States and unreasonable search by a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer. The suit seeks “actual damages for battery, loss of liberty, unconstitutional search and any emotional damages” stemming from claims that the female officer groped the woman’s vulva for self-gratification as well as to “humiliate, dominate, and control” her.
Representatives for the Asheville Regional Airport did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The TSA said in a statement that it does not comment on pending litigation.
The woman arrived at the Asheville Regional Airport on the afternoon of June 27, traveling to Los Angeles. She went through security and the body scanner, which the TSA officer said alerted that she would have to undergo a groin search, the lawsuit said.
When she asked the officer if the search would involve touching her genitals, the officer said it would not, according to the lawsuit.
The passenger “clearly and unambiguously advised (the officer) that she would not consent to the touching of her genitals,” the lawsuit said.
But the search deviated from normal search protocol in several ways, according to the lawsuit.
First, the officer “insisted” the woman spread her legs wider than the footprints on the mat below her indicated, the lawsuit said, providing surveillance images showing the traveler’s feet wider than the mat’s footprints.
The officer then slid her hands up the woman’s legs but moved her hands inside her shorts to make direct contact with her genitals, according to the lawsuit. As she began to slide her hands up her legs, the officer commented that the shorts the woman was wearing were particularly short, the lawsuit said.
Against TSA protocol, the lawsuit claims, the front of the officer’s hands and fingertips made contact with the passenger’s genitals.
According to TSA guidelines provided on its website, “officers use the back of the hands for pat-downs over sensitive areas of the body. In limited cases, additional screening involving a sensitive area pat-down with the front of the hand may be needed to determine that a threat does not exist.”
The woman flinched as the officer’s hand made contact with her genitals, according to the lawsuit, to which the officer replied, “if you resist, I will do this again.” The lawsuit says TSA policy does not permit such threats.
The lawsuit claims that after the search the woman was found to not be in possession of any prohibited items.
“As to what happened to my client, we believe the complaint speaks for itself, and my client doesn’t have anything further she wants to add at this time,” Jon Corbett, the woman’s attorney, said in a statement to CNN. “From my side, I can say that I have reason to think that my client was not the only victim of abuse at this airport, and I encourage anyone who encountered similar issues to be in touch.”