“TSA Rape” Blog Post A Matter of Free Speech?
As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, many will take the time to not only reflect upon the day itself, but also the decade following the WTC attacks. American life has changed dramatically since that day, but it’s not always easy to cite tangible examples of how it has changed.
But sometimes it is. And the TSA is one entity that has gained quite a bit of attention since then. As airports have continued to implement stronger safety measures over the last decade, many have put the Transportation Security Administration into the crosshairs, railing against random searches and pat-downs – which they say violate some of their basic human rights. One thing on which we can all agree – getting patted down in an airport isn’t a whole lot of fun.
What is the limit of free speech on the internet? In a situation where no facts have been entered into the legal record, should someone be able to make accusations in a blog post? Let us know in the comments.
One woman had a particularly nasty experience during a TSA pat-down. According to columnist and blogger Amy Alkon, her experience with a particular TSA agent went way past uncomfortable.
In a blog post, Alkon details a March 31st incident where she accuses a TSA agent of “raping” her with her hand during a public pat-down in Los Angeles.
Alkon writes about her disapproval of the whole procedure in general, saying that the pat-downs are both a physical violation as well as a constitutional one. On that day, she admits that she decided to make a scene on purpose, to bring attention to what she thinks is an unfair act, “to make it uncomfortable for them to violate us and our rights,” she said. So she began sobbing, loudly. According to Alkon, this was what happened next –
Nearing the end of this violation, I sobbed even louder as the woman, FOUR TIMES, stuck the side of her gloved hand INTO my vagina, through my pants. Between my labia. She really got up there. Four times. Back right and left, and front right and left. In my vagina. Between my labia. I was shocked — utterly unprepared for how she got the side of her hand up there. It was government-sanctioned sexual assault.
Upon leaving, still sobbing, I yelled to the woman, “YOU RAPED ME.” And I took her name to see if I could file sexual assault charges on my return. This woman, and all of those who support this system deserve no less than this sort of unpleasant experience, and from all of us.
Apparently, the lawsuit idea fell through as her lawyer told her she had an unwinnable case.
But now, the TSA agent in question is threatening to sue Alkon for her blog post, claiming defamation. Thedala Magee has asked for $500,000 as well as the removal of the blog post.
It doesn’t look like Alkon is going to comply with that request, as she writes today on her blog –
Magee is looking for me to pay her $500K, apologize to her, and take down my blog item about her — because I had the nerve to exercise my First Amendment rights and complain after she jammed her hand sideways into my vagina four times. (Unfortunately for Ms. Magee, I’ve always made a pretty crappy victim.)
She has also gained the services of a First Amendment lawyer named Marc Randazza who is working the case pro bono.
The letter that Magee sent Alkon requesting the monetary damages and the retraction of the “rape” allegations says that the “outbursts in public and writings on the internet” have subjected Magee to “hatred, contempt, and ridicule” and caused her “severe emotional distress, fear, and problems doing her duty.”
Alkon’s lawyer Randazza sent a letter back, saying –
Your client aggressively pushed her fingers into my client’s vulva. I am certain that she did not expect to find a bomb there. She did this to humiliate my client, to punish her for exercising her rights, and to send a message to others who might do the same. It was absolutely a sexual assault, perpetrated in order to exercise power over the victim. We agree with Ms. Alkon’s characterization of this crime as “rape,” and so would any reasonable juror.
He then quotes precedent defending the use of the word “rape” as hyperbolic language. So even if Magee didn’t “rape” Alkon in some meaning of the word, he says that she has the right to characterize it as such.
TSA pat-downs have remained a hot button issue for years. Recently, the Texas legislature was forced to pull their “Groping Bill” when the U.S. Attorney for Texas warned that the passing of said bill would most definitely result in flight shutdowns. The “Groping Bill” would have made any TSA pat-down that involved the anus, buttocks or sexual organs a crime.
If everything actually happened as Alkon reports, then you have to agree that this TSA agent’s actions crossed the line – no matter where you stand on the larger issue. Still, some would argue that penalizing the agent for enforcing policies under the instruction of the federal government is the wrong approach. Although it’s highly unlikely that a superior has ever told an agent to go as far as Magee allegedly went.
At this point, it seems to be a case of one person’s word against another person’s word. Should Alkon have the right to make these statements about her experience on her blog? Does a blog post like that fall into the realm of defamation of character? Let us know what you think.