When Ralph Wiggum wailed, “She’s touching my special place!” after Marge Simpson put her hand on his shoulder, we laughed, both at Ralph’s odd way with words and his oversensitivity. That this sweet, simpleminded animated eight-year-old lists his shoulder under “bad touch” places is odd but endearing – after all, we want kids to raise the alarm when someone actually does try to hurt them, don’t we? And it’s always better to be more vigilant than less, right?

…When you’re the TSA, vigilance and child abuse start to look like the same thing.

Against all logic, professional opinion, and common sense, the TSA is now telling children that the invasive pat-downs are a “game.” As if staggering numbers of children have not suffered, or do not continue to suffer, at the hands of sexual abusers who say the exact same thing.

In another failed attempt to make the whole thing better, the TSA has announced that children under 12 will receive “modified” pat-downs that, presumably, aren’t as “grope-y” as the ones adults receive. At least, that’s what the TSA wants us to presume – because they aren’t at all clear on whether a security guard may touch a child’s genital area.

(Don’t get me started on how the mere fact of a twelfth birthday has no connection to the privacy we should be affording our children’s genitalia. Just don’t.)

The mothers and fathers who read my Facebook Wall are flipping out about this, and for good reason. Telling kids that an invasive touching by a stranger is a game makes them more susceptible to abusers, who often use the same tactic. And the younger the child is, the less likely he or she will understand the difference between a security guard touching his or her “special place” and another adult doing it – particularly if the other adult is one the child trusts, like a teacher or babysitter.

The TSA claims it may change its molestation-tastic policies to accommodate victims of sexual abuse, overlooking two major problems. One, sexual abuse survivors would have to “out” themselves in public in order to receive the consideration afforded by the altered policies – not cool, and, for some people, not possible. And two, any change in policy to accommodate those who have already suffered sexual abuse does nothing about the fact that telling children groping is a “game” increases their risk of being preyed upon in future.

Thanks, TSA, but I’ll be walking this Christmas.

~*~ Dani