– TSA Agent Threatens Woman With Defamation, Demands $500k For Calling Intrusive Search ‘Rape’ (Techdirt, Sep. 6, 2011):
Amy Alkon is an advice columnist and blogger who is just one of many people who has had a horrifying and traumatizing experience going through airport security lately. After being pulled aside for an “enhanced” search, she found the process to be so invasive and so in violation of her own rights that she was left sobbing. She wrote about the experience on her blog, noting that she didn’t think the search was just “invasive” in the emotional sense, but flat out physically invasive:
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.
After investigating whether or not she could file sexual assault charges, and being told that this was probably a non-starter, she instead wrote about the experience, and named the TSA agent who she dealt with: Thedala Magee. Alkon felt that if people can’t stop these kinds of searches, they should at least be able to name the TSA agents who are doing them.
Magee responded by lawyering up and threatening Alkon with defamation and asking for $500,000 and the removal of the blog post.
Alkon, with the help of lawyer Marc Randazza, has now responded, refusing to back down. Both letters are embedded below, but here are a few key quotes:
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.
Furthermore, even if your client did not actually sexually assault my client, Ms. Alkon’s statements to and about Ms. Magee would still be protected by the First Amendment. The word “rape” itself has been the subject of defamation cases by far more sympathetic Plaintiffs than your client. In Gold v. Harrison, 962 P.2d 353 (Haw. 1998), cert denied, 526 U.S. 1018 (1999), the Hawai’i Supreme Court held that a defendant’s characterization of his neighbors’ seeking an easement in his backyard as “raping [the defendant]” was not defamatory. This speech was protected as rhetorical hyperbole. Of course, we need not seek out Hawai’i case law in order to debunk your unsupportable claims. Rhetorical hyperbole has a strong history of favorable treatment in defamation actions. See Greenbelt Cooperative Pub. Ass’n v. Bresler, 398 U.S. 6, 14 (1970). This doctrine acknowledges our First Amendment right to express ourselves, even when employing literary license. Accordingly, even if your client’s actions were not “rape,” Ms. Alkon had every right to characterize them as such.
No free woman should endure what your client did to Ms. Alkon. Fortunately, Ms. Alkon is capable of recognizing injustice, and for the good of us all, she had the courage to speak out on this matter of public concern of the highest order. After Magee’s assault on Ms. Alkon’s vagina and dignity, Ms. Alkon exercised her First Amendment right to recount this incident to others in person and through her blog. This was not only her right — it was her responsibility.
I honestly don’t know if this reaches the “technical” definition of rape, but I am massively troubled, if not horrified, by the idea that a woman who feels sexually assaulted based on what happened above ends up being threatened for saying she felt violated. Talk about adding insult to injury.