As a consistent news consumer, I am aware invasive airport security is not the outrage du jour.

The TSA has been around for nearly 16 years now — it was launched by the George W. Bush Administration back in November 2001 — and its various excesses and incompetencies have become little more than a routine inconvenience to be borne by those who want to travel by air. We complain a little over the long lines and agents who are ruder than average, but at this point many Americans either cannot or do not bother to remember what it was like to keep one’s dignity intact at the airport.

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I do remember, and having family flung far across the country means I fly often enough to be reminded on a regular basis. That’s part of why I’m like a dog with a bone on this issue.

The other part is infuriating stories like this one from Chicago, in which a man named David Stavropolous says he was touched so violently by a TSA agent at Chicago’s O’Hare airport that he is scheduled for reparative surgery this October. From a local news report:

It was during that patdown, he said, that the agent drove a hand into his groin so hard, twice, that he was immediately hit by waves of pain. “I turned around and said, you injured me,” he said. “I’d like to talk to your supervisor!”

Stavropolous said at first he was threatened with arrest. Then he was told he would have to submit to a strip-search in another area. “I said if you’re going to do a strip search, I refuse,” he said. “I’ll do it out in the open!” In the end, he said he was merely subjected to another patdown.

“I see a urologist once or twice a month,” Stavropolous says, months after the incident at O’Hare. “I’m still in pain—I still have issues with bleeding.”

Needless to say, he’s suing.

Stavropolous’ suit targets the agent responsible, which is reasonable, but unfortunately a victory in such a narrow case won’t do anything to stop future abuses by over-eager TSA agents who have been told to be more aggressive in their patdown procedure.

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That change needs to come from Congress in the form of airport security reform. The TSA has long been an expensive, ineffective, and unconstitutional trampling of Americans’ right to privacy — and to travel unmolested. It’s an expensive institutionalization of behavior we’d label sexual assault coming from anyone not wearing a TSA uniform.

What happened to Stavropolous is, thankfully, a rare extreme of TSA patdowns gone wrong, but Americans shouldn’t have to wonder if our encounters with federal airport security are going to be appallingly newsworthy.

TSA gave a man such a violent “patdown” he has to have surgery AP Photo/John Bazemore
Bonnie Kristian is a columnist at Rare, weekend editor at The Week, and a fellow at Defense Priorities. You can find more of her work at or follow her on Twitter @bonniekristian
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