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Something happened on the way home from Australia - Tactical Ninja

Jan. 30th, 2013

10:02 am - Something happened on the way home from Australia

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I've travelled to and through Australia a few times now, and in general I've always found the officials to be relatively friendly and easy to deal with - often much easier and friendlier than their kiwi counterparts. However, Melbourne airport now has those scanning machines - you know, the ones that they don't know how safe they are, that look through your clothes to see if you've got a toenail clipper in your pocket that might be used as a weapon?

And they choose people at random to go through them. They also have the metal detector arches and it seems most people go through them, but every so often someone gets shoved into the machine instead.


I get this relatively often. I don't know if it's because of my unnatural coloured hair or if I look like a pushover, or if I actually look dodgy, but it seems Australian officials 'randomly' choose me for testing in case I want to blow shit up. I've been wanded for gunpowder about four times, patted down a couple, and yesterday they decided I needed to be x-rayed.

I opted out. I did this because a) it's security theatre and it's bullshit, and b) there is no guarantee it's safe.

However, unlike the US, Australia has a law that says you have to do it if they choose you. The woman directed me to read a piece of paper (about 5 paragraphs) that detailed how few rights you actually have. By this point I was starting to get an adrenaline response and I only scanned it. The words "If you do not agree to the procedure..." jumped out at me. I repeated "I do not agree to the procedure" to the woman, and she said "In that case, you have to leave the airport." I said "I thought I could opt out and be patted down." She rolled her eyes and said "Didn't you read the notice? Unless you have a legitimate medical reason, you either go through the machine or I have to call security."

At which point I realised I was being coerced, and everything went red. I was faced with the choice of going through their machine, or wasting my $800 plane ticket and stuffing my companions around. Some choice that is. I felt completely powerless. Those of you who know me will know that [being coerced is a trigger for me (TW)]I have a history of long term repeated coercive rape. It's a long story but essentially, nowadays whenever I witness (like in movies) or am subjected to a situation in which free will is reduced to choosing between doing something I really don't want to do or accepting whatever negative consequences the other person chooses to inflict, my head goes right back to that place of powerlessness from so long ago, the adrenaline kicks in and I stop thinking rationally. Used to be that I'd either freeze or nut off completely. Nowadays I can get through it, but I don't deal with it at all well.

I swore at her. I stepped into the machine. The man on the other side barked instructions at me and I swore at him too. When I got out of it and the stupid sign on the other side said "OK" in green, he said "See? It's all fine." And I swore at him again and left before I had a chance to really lose it at them.

Because by this time I was having a full on fight or flight response. When I got away from the area, I was breathing really hard and my ears were ringing and I was shaking hard enough that I couldn't write properly on the departure card. I've no idea what I wrote. It took about 15 minutes to calm down, at which point I started wondering if PTSD is actually a legitimate medical reason to be excused.

Or am I just being a brat?

The thing is, it's not the machine that's the problem (even though I think it's risky and don't want to use it), it's the coercion - the feeling that I have no choice, the feeling of powerlessness. If I'd been able to opt out, I would have accepted the pat down. The removal of that choice is what set me off - and I don't know if that counts as a medical reason to be excused from going in the machine.

What I do know is that most people seem to not freak out and start losing their cool at people out of character when they're told to go be x-rayed, and I do. And that it took me a considerable amount of time to get my heart rate back to normal afterwards, and that when I started thinking about it in bed this morning I started freaking out again.

I know that if I had been given more than the two bad choices I had, it wouldn't have been a problem at all. I don't know if that's enough of a reason to try to get a medical certificate for when I travel. I keep telling myself to get over it and just behave like everyone else, and that if I hadn't objected I never would have been coerced, and when I think about that I feel powerless again. I know that if I write to Melbourne airport to complain, the response is likely to be a polite version of "Tough titty."


I don't know what to do, but I'm afraid that one day I will actually spin out and go "Fuck the consequences." I was pretty close to it yesterday - if I hadn't had Dr Wheel and Happy waiting for me on the other side I probably would have. I don't want to avoid travelling because of this, because in a way that's letting both the stupid security bullshit and the PTSD win.

I would appreciate input from other people on this, because whenever I try to sort it through I just end up berating myself for being stupid, and that is not constructive.

Comments:

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From:labelleizzy
Date:January 29th, 2013 09:10 pm (UTC)
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PTSD is legit.
it's a legitimate medical diagnosis, and I think you should consider getting a doctor's note to carry while you are travelling, especially if, as you say, you've been singled out repeatedly.

also: my friend ribbin is 6' tall blond guy with scruffy beard and longish hair, and he intentionally wears the shitkicking boots and spiky necklaces and punk earrings when he goes to travel... and he's never been put through one of those things.

Random selection my fucking ASS. If it were truly random, they'd be able to show the records of who was picked when, and what random number generator selects the person to be screened. If you're dressed weirdly by local norms, (spouse wears a kilt) you're more likely to get pulled through. If you look like you won't make a fuss, you're more likely to get pulled through.


GRRRRR.
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From:m_danson
Date:January 29th, 2013 09:13 pm (UTC)
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I'd get whatever documentation was needed to opt-out. You absolutely are being reasonable.
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From:pombagira
Date:January 29th, 2013 09:31 pm (UTC)
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yup, what the others say.. PTSD is a valid explanation as to why you do not need to stand in the little box, especially given the feelings both emotional and physical that happaned afterwards, and no you are not being a brat, not are you not trying hard enough, and what ever else you have come up with for why you should not.. *coughs*

traveling is rattleing enought on the psychie given all the hoops they make you jump through, err yeah.

and given that most airport security people tend to er on the bolshy confrontational types, it makes it double important that you look into getting a medical cert for such things.

also by getting one it puts you back into control, which oddly i reccon will help with the PTSD triggers and symptoms...


also **loves**


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From:tyellas
Date:January 29th, 2013 09:44 pm (UTC)
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Really sorry that you had such an unpleasant and triggering experience. Have you seen this blog, from a sympathetic insider at the US's TSA?

https://takingsenseaway.wordpress.com/
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From:c_maxx
Date:January 29th, 2013 09:50 pm (UTC)
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Hugs as well. They love me too.

***Facetiousness warning***

Didn't you know all this security is making the world safe for democracy? :-\
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From:fflo
Date:January 29th, 2013 10:01 pm (UTC)
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Not just being a brat. The physiological stuff is significant. Your body/self is freakin'--- something to take very seriously.
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From:sorceress
Date:January 29th, 2013 10:24 pm (UTC)
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Maybe they changed since I was last there or maybe it's only in the international airport but I've never seen the BIG thing they stick you in. Great! More stuff to get shoved in!

I don't think you're being a brat at ALL and PTSD is a legitimate excuse. I seem to get picked for these things too, probably because I look like I am shitting myself and walk reluctantly through everything in the airport (plane/flight phobia). I probably look like the dodgy sort of person who threatens people on planes with tweezers because I'm all red, sweaty and awkward.

I always get explosives wanded, too. I actually asked one of the people about how it works and how often they catch people and why people would legitimately have explosives material on them, they said they often catch people who work in professions that deal with explosives. Huh. I should have asked what they do with those people when they find them...

Long story short you shouldn't be forced into anything and I'd definitely be looking into a medical certificate!
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:January 29th, 2013 10:50 pm (UTC)
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I'd been thinking about it too. While it'd be good to write to the airport, I also am thinking it might be worth writing to the tourism board(? not sure if this is the right name in AU) and saying it left an unpleasant experience to an otherwise pleasant holiday, making you reconsider whether you'll go back.

Also, *hug*
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From:pundigrion
Date:January 29th, 2013 11:42 pm (UTC)
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A medical certificate sounds completely reasonable to me since they give you no other way to opt out. Not only do you have a valid reason, I say the more the merrier for people not going through. If there is a high enough number, maybe it will ping some statistic that will cause them to review the policy. Then again probably not, but I'm also convinced those are not at all random.
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:January 29th, 2013 11:49 pm (UTC)
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The thing that's surprising is that the USA allows you to opt out, and they are usually much more invasive of people's rights when it comes to "security".
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From:richaarde
Date:January 30th, 2013 12:11 am (UTC)
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I've heard that traveling through Israel is the worst. Apparently, the security rather brutally interviews every passenger individually.

Not to say that your experience wasn't brutal. Yikes.
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From:anna_en_route
Date:January 30th, 2013 12:18 am (UTC)
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You are very definitely not being a brat and if PTSD isn't a legitimate medical excuse then it should be.


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From:rivet
Date:January 30th, 2013 12:25 am (UTC)
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That sucks, I'm sorry your trip finished off that way. Security at Melbourne airport is some of the most dickish I've experienced (and I've been in a LOT of airports!). Last time I went through I was selected TWICE to be swiped for explosives IN THE SAME LINE, as well as being put into the nudey scanner.

Edited at 2013-01-30 12:37 am (UTC)
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From:tatjna
Date:January 30th, 2013 12:48 am (UTC)
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That is just ridiculous.

According to the article linked in pombagira's comment below, letters of complaint do have an effect.
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From:pombagira
Date:January 30th, 2013 12:33 am (UTC)
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also this just popped up on the stuff ... ohh..

http://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/travel-troubles/8240050/Peepshow-over-for-body-scanners

so they are phasing out said body scanners?? havn't looked for a confirm, given that it is a stuff artilcle.. but gosh... maybe airport theatrics will be phased out to..... *crosses fingers*
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From:tatjna
Date:January 30th, 2013 12:47 am (UTC)
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Yes. Apparently that type of scanner is notorious for being crappy, and the company that makes them has been accused of dodgy testing. And they are the ones in use in Melbourne. The US is apparently changing to a different kind rather than phasing them out.
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From:laughingmagpie
Date:January 30th, 2013 01:31 am (UTC)
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Geez... I got sweaty palms and a higher heart rate from just reading about the experience. I get really anxious in similar situations. And I had no idea that Australia doesn't allow you to choose a physical search over the scanner!

Because, yeah, I totally 100% agree on the 1) unproven health issues (especially for the poor unshielded airport employees), 2) proven lack of effectiveness, 3) invasion of privacy and just generally the 4) unregulated, unmonitored mass radiation of the population. So, there's an aspect of civil disobedience on my part too. The more of us challenge the scanners, the better.

But I got plenty nervous the first time I did it but rehearsed my script and now it goes alright when traveling through the US - no problem, no fuss. If they threw in a wrench like they did for you in Australia, I'd be hyperventilating too.

The letter you wrote above sounds excellent to me. If I had to travel through Australia regularly, I'd get my doctor to consider my family history of cancer (and most people have one of those! ;-) ) and write me a note.

So, summary: I don't think you're being stupid at all.
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From:helianthas
Date:January 30th, 2013 03:55 am (UTC)
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I always opt-out in the US; they used to just go along with it but now a lot of the times they ask why. I have learned to just say "It's personal" rather than anything else. Once I said "I'm pregnant" and they tried to convince me it was perfectly safe. "It's personal" seems to be the answer that no one has a response to, so I'm sticking with that one.
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From:ms_hecubus
Date:January 30th, 2013 01:43 am (UTC)
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I'm an idiot and accidentally got in the line to voluntarily go through one of those when I was flying to England. I thought I was being crafty since the line was much shorter. I didn't realize until I was stepping up to it that I was getting the nudie scan. Doh!

I really think you have a legitimate reason to get a medical exemption.
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From:downwardlashes
Date:January 30th, 2013 04:34 am (UTC)
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I don't know what can help, but I can commiserate. I had a crappy childhood, and about 99% of the time I am pretty over it. Then something makes me feel like that again, and I revert (the way I coped with childhood was being very antisocial - not asocial, either, antisocial). It really isn't fun.
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From:plantgirl
Date:January 30th, 2013 05:21 am (UTC)
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Not having a choice would make me crazy. I hate feeling pressured or coerced. I don't have your history so I wouldn't have the panic reaction, but I would be very unhappy. *hug*

Also, what's their logic? "Hi, never mind that you are volunteering for an alternate method of our determining if you are actually carrying any explosives/weapons, we think you're a bomber so we're going to make you leave the airport & stay in our city/country. Please, since we won't let you on the aircraft to blow up a plane, take your pick of blowing up a [tour bus/school/shopping mall] instead. Because that won't upset anyone."
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From:caycos
Date:January 30th, 2013 07:59 am (UTC)
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Last time I was going through Heathrow I had gone through the bit where they check your bags and was lingering ever so slightly because I was trying to see where Paul was. I guess I attracted notice because they got me to be body scanned. I was a bit tired and didn't really realise what was happening until it was happening, and didn't really have time to think about questioning it. Was strange.

In other travel related rambling, in India *everyone* gets scanned with a handheld paddle thing and there's a bit of a patdown too. We experienced this at domestic airports, and at the entrance to every subway station in Delhi, and at the entrance to big hotels and shopping malls (although the latter two were more selective, sometimes you could just go through the metal detector). Obviously different security situation there, and it was mostly just kinda fascinating. Particularly because it didn't feel that intrusive somehow because everyone got it. Also interesting was the the one for men happened in the open, but there was always a curtained off bit for women.
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From:jaelle_n_gilla
Date:January 30th, 2013 09:05 am (UTC)
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Assholes! I understand that feeling. I don't usually lose it but I am on the verge of throwing things and hitting someone hard when coercion happens to me. Choices are important.

I think my first excuse as a woman would have been "I'm trying to get pregnant and I'm not going anywhere near an x-ray." I think that would qualify as medical as well.

So far I've only ever been patted down and had to remove my shoes for explosives sniffing. They love me for the metal that is apparently worked into most female shoes. Other than that I look normal enough for them to let me pass. Lucky me.
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From:maholic
Date:January 30th, 2013 09:10 am (UTC)
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TSA in america is getting rid of those scanners due to so many protests in america... so be interesting to see if they stop the roll out of them globally
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From:tcpip
Date:January 30th, 2013 11:17 am (UTC)
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It took about 15 minutes to calm down, at which point I started wondering if PTSD is actually a legitimate medical reason to be excused.

Yes.
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From:neverminetohold
Date:January 30th, 2013 05:18 pm (UTC)
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You're absolutely not a brat and like the others said, I'm sure PTSD is a legitimate reason to get a paper that allows you to avoid those things and get a pat-down instead at the airport.

I personally would have gone through the machine, though, because when I have no choice, which is something I hate as someone who was mobbed three years, I go meekly with what the higher-up says. And hate myself for it afterwards, when my heart-rate is close to normal again and I'm over the feeling of needing to break down and cry or throw up.
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From:tatjna
Date:January 30th, 2013 09:37 pm (UTC)
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From what I gather having done some reading, it has to be a physical reason (ie shoulder injury that prevents lifting arms over head), and I have been unable to find anything specific about exemptions and how to get them. I suspect that PTSD wouldn't be considered an exemptable reason unless it was some kind of uncontrollable claustrophobic response.
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From:redcalx
Date:January 30th, 2013 11:57 pm (UTC)
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Huh. I get this too. Any hint of confrontation and it's adenalin, high heart rate, tinnitus, shakes, concentration goes to s**t. Pretty sure the same would have happened to me in those circumstances.
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From:dragonvyxn
Date:January 31st, 2013 01:17 am (UTC)
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i just want to give you a biiiiig hug. so sorry that happened. when i was pregnant i opted out of all scanners and tsa gave me shit *every single time* making me feel very harassed and uncomfortable. it was really distressing. i'm glad that i was able to opt out here and not get tossed from the airport; it's uniquely fucked up that they don't have an opt out.
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From:tatjna
Date:January 31st, 2013 01:18 am (UTC)
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Apparently the UK does it too. Fuckers.
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