Denise Albert: ‘I have never been so humiliated or felt more violated in my life’
File this story in your how-not-to-treat-a-human-being-who-is-enduring-an-illness folder. Actually no human period should be treated this way. ‘The Moms’ co-founder, Denise Albert, who is battling breast cancer, was traveling from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) earlier this week when she had an extremely troubling experience going through security. Her pat down looked more like an insensitive and inappropriate intrusion than a standard check.
“I have never been so humiliated or felt more violated in my whole life,” Albert wrote in a Facebook post that has sparked outrage on the internet. Albert posted a video with a candid account of what happened with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents.
I have never been so humiliated or felt more violated in my life. I went through the scanning machine at the airport without incident. I had already told them about my metal port and my medical cream which I removed from my bag for them to see and test as I have done on prior flights. I don’t know what was different this time but TSA agents aggressively attempted to do a body cavity search in public. (Also I had already removed my wig in public because the search they wanted to do would have messed it up and taken it off). The only way I was allowed to proceed was when a supervisor was kind enough to have more compassion and possibly think the 2 agents went too far and took me into a private room for a regular soft pat down. Today the 2 TSA agents in my video went too far and even threatened to call police. I hope no one ever experiences this.
Monday Dec 5th:
I was in such shock last night that I didn’t include all of the details. Thank you all for your love, your personal stories and your support. I truly hope this doesn’t happen to anyone else!
I have never been so humiliated or felt more violated in my life. I went through the scanning machine at the airport without incident. I had already told them about my metal port and my medical cream which I removed from my bag for them to see and test as I have done on prior flights. I don’t know what was different this time but TSA agents aggressively attempted to do a body cavity search in public. I was TSE precheck and once through the scanner they asked me to take off my shoes. I explained I didn’t have socks on and that my cream is for an infection from my current treatment, including on my feet. So if they wanted to put my shoes through x-ray, I would have to sit down because I would not put my bare feet on the floor. They allowed that. They then started to tell me they would apply pressure from head to toe and I got very upset because I wear a wig. I didn’t want them to touch it, move it, or ruin it. So I ripped it off for them to pat my head without damaging my wig (that I paid for and insurance didn’t cover!) I don’t ever go out in public without it. I have shown pictures on social media as I feel it empowers others but I’m not comfortable in public (I have taken it off at 2 breast cancer related work events for a second to show other cancer survivors and those in it now!) They also put my shoes through and then wouldn’t allow me to put them back on until after the full body search. After at least 20 minutes of sitting there because they were debating how to proceed, I told them my feet were freezing. Also a side effect from chemo. They refused to help me. The woman reached behind me and forceable and aggressively put her hands down my jeans in the back. At some point they offered me a room but wouldn’t let me put my boots on to walk there, which I can’t do barefoot especially because of my open sores and rashes from my treatment on my feet. When I kept asking why they needed to do all of this, they kept saying because I wanted to bring medical cream on the plane. (They NEVER said there was any reason due to my scan so that made no sense!) On the video you see the woman shove her hand up my crotch and then try to go down my shirt. That’s when I said (again) I have a medical port and had a lumpecomy. Many of you have remarked about how calm I was. I have to admit, after the video ends (though I do have it on video), I lifted up my shirt. Rather then have them touch my breasts and port “with pressure” as the TSA agent stated. That’s when they said they were calling law enforcement and I asked them to please do so. Finally, a supervisor arrived. The only way I was allowed to proceed was when the supervisor was kind enough to have more compassion and possibly think the 2 agents went too far and took me into a private room for a regular soft pat down. After that, it still didn’t end. Even though all of my bags when through x-rays without incident as well, they opened my bags, removed everything and another TSA agent joked about all of the eyelashes I had. I told her, it’s because I don’t have real ones from my cancer treatment. I would have thought at that point, the humiliation would have ended. The 2 TSA agents in my video went too far. I hope no one ever experiences this. I should also point out that according to the TSA website, what these agents did was improper procedure – they are not allowed to touch skin and should be gentle over clothing (contradiction to what you hear on video). I should NOT have been required to remove shoes because of my medical condition and they were supposed to ask if I have a tender area and didn’t and didn’t listen when I told them I did. Luckily, Melissa Musen Gerstein and I had a wonderful flight on American Airlines with an incredible crew and 1 very special flight attendant, Latane, who made everything better for the night.
Please watch ABC7NY NOW!
UPDATE Tuesday Dec 6
Last nights ABC news piece by Bill Ritter AND Joe Torres
Tuesday Dec 6th 3:55pm
The TSA just called. Kimberly Walton – Assistant Administrator for Civil Rights and Liberty, Ombudsman and Traveler Engagement.
Here are some notes from my conversation:
Apologizing for experience
at this point LAX investigation into what happened
very aggressively train on how to screen medical / disabilities
this was not at their expectations
a lot of disappointment we didn’t get it right
they are going to refresh training at LAX 3000 employees
airport conducting investigation
I’m very pleased with this.
I will also be on FOX 5 / Fox5NY.com with Stacey Delicate at 5:30 and PIX 11 with Dan Marino at 5!
Posted by Denise Albert on Sunday, December 4, 2016
“I was scared, I was shocked and I just kept thinking ‘I want this over with.’ I just wanted it over and I was trying to remain calm,” Albert tells Scary Mommy. She said part of her fear was the fact that the TSA is a government agency and there’s this underlying fear that if you resist anything you’ll end up in serious trouble.
“It’s shocking that I didn’t stop it sooner, but I guess I was paralyzed with fear,” Albert says.
After the invasive body search in between her legs and backside, the TSA agent went for Albert’s breasts. In the video you can hear Albert telling her, with voice quivering, presumably on the verge of tears over the whole ordeal, “You can’t touch me there. You can’t touch me there, sorry.”
Another TSA agent comes over and asks what the issue is. Albert explains to both of them that she has breast cancer and she has a metal port in her chest that they cannot touch. A port, or catheter is routinely surgically implanted into those undergoing cancer treatments because it allows for the medicines to be injected and blood to be drawn without blowing out the person’s veins. The agents refused to listen to her and insisted they had to “clear everything.”
Albert says she asked them why they were searching her this way and they allegedly told her that it’s because she was traveling with medical cream. To which Albert makes a good point, why didn’t agents just test the cream like they normally do? The medical cream is used to treat an infection that affects her feet. Which brings us to the other issue here: Albert was traveling TSA pre-check, meaning she shouldn’t have had to remove her shoes. You may have noticed that she was holding her bare feet up as the TSA agent was conducting the search. It was medically unsafe for her to remove her shoes because of the risk of infection to her feet. She explained this to agents as well, which apparently was ignored.
The situation escalated even further when agents insisted that they’d have to touch her head and wig. So she took it off herself.
“I didn’t want them to touch it, move it, or ruin it. So I ripped it off for them to pat my head without damaging my wig (that I paid for and insurance didn’t cover!) I don’t ever go out in public without it,” Albert wrote in her Facebook post.
Once supervisors arrived to assist in the situation, Albert was offered a private screening room. Yeah, after all of that, she was offered a private room.
The TSA issued a statement on Wednesday after the incident apologizing to Albert, according to NBC 4 in Los Angeles. The organization also claimed that all 3,000 employees will go through refresher training. Albert is happy she spoke out publicly because she thinks a lot can be learned from the incident.
“I’m hoping by being so public with this that it will bring awareness for the agents and for people with medical conditions and disabilities to know their rights.”
Denise Albert, co-founder of “The Moms” has been very public about her battle with breast cancer. You can read more about her journey on her Facebook page.