A father whose 10-year-old daughter recently received almost a two-minute airport pat-down is speaking out, calling the episode “invasive” and “inappropriate.”
Vendela Payne was traveling with her father, Kevin Payne, from Raleigh, N.C., back home to San Diego last week when she was flagged by the TSA because she’d left a Capri Sun juice pouch in her purse, according the San Diego Union-Tribune. After swabbing the young girl’s bag and getting a false positive for explosive materials, a TSA agent took Vendela aside for a full body pat-down.
“She just had a completely blank stare on her face,” Kevin told NBC News about the incident. “I could tell it was very uncomfortable for her.” The father videotaped the pat-down on his cellphone, capturing a female agent slowly and methodically frisking the girl, including her groin and buttock area. “I felt it was incredibly inappropriate, very invasive, and it really violated my daughter,” he told Good Morning America.
While Kevin says he is all for airport security, he believes the TSA should have taken other measures before resorting to the pat-down of a minor. “The pat-down seemed to be the go-to option for them, and I think they could’ve done a better scrutiny of what they were looking for prior to putting their hands all over my 10-year-old daughter,” he told NBC News. “Maybe they need retraining. Maybe they did everything by the book. I don’t really know, but it was an uncomfortable situation.”
In a statement provided to NBC News, the TSA said their agent followed proper protocol. “Screening procedures allow for the pat-down of children under certain circumstances,” the statement said. “The process by which the child was patted down followed approved procedures.”
According to the TSA website, “TSA officers will consult parents or the traveling guardian about the best way to relieve any concerns during the screening of a child.” It also states that “modified screening procedures are in place to reduce the likelihood of a pat-down.”
But Kevin says that wasn’t the case. “They gave her a very standard pat-down for an adult female,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I don’t think it was modified one bit.”
Vendela said she found the whole incident upsetting. “I know it’s to keep everyone on the plane safe, but she kept patting me down like, ‘pat-down, pat-down,’” Vendela told WTHR. “It was, like, over and over.”
In an effort to calm his daughter, Kevin says he tried not to show how angry he was, instead making funny faces and waving to his daughter as he filmed the interaction. “I just kept it as calm, cool, [and] compliant as possible, and she followed suit,” Kevin told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Deep down I was absolutely fuming, but I knew letting emotions out was only going to worsen the situation for everybody.”
Sara Minges, a children’s therapist, trauma specialist, and director of Playful Awareness therapy services, says that while the TSA has an obligation to maintain safety, it needs to keep in mind that children might have special needs when it comes to security screening. “One in six children has a sensory processing disorder, which means your brain does not receive input from senses correctly and you can perceive a dangerous environment when there is no danger. Those children can have issues with touch,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “So it’s important for the TSA to ask parents if their kids have any medical conditions.”
Minges says pat-downs can often be confusing because children are frequently told that they shouldn’t be touched without permission. “It’s important to tell children, clearly, what is happening, while it is happening. After all, this is a stranger, and kids learn about stranger danger. They are aware of what’s going on,” she says. TSA pat-downs of kids should be short and efficient, Minges adds.
If you see that your child is going to get a pat-down, Minges says, it can be a good idea for parents to offer to get frisked first. “That sends the message that ‘Hey, it’s not a big deal. I’m going to do it too,’” she says. But she doesn’t recommend that parents warn their kids about the possibility of a pat-down ahead of time. “Then they will get nervous every time they are in an airport for something that is not necessarily likely to happen.”
If nothing else, Minges says, TSA officials should keep in mind whom they are working with. “Even just smiling goes a long way with kids,” she says. “If they can say a friendly comment, something like ‘I know this is inconvenient. I’ll do this as fast as possible,’ it’s letting [kids] know that they are going to be OK — instead of showing no facial expression or looking angry, which kids perceive as ‘Something bad is going to happen.’”