United States Canadian woman harassed by U.S. customs for carrying condoms

Discussion in 'Border Controls, Customs and Immigration' started by Mike, Apr 6, 2013.

  1. Mike

    Mike Founding Member Coach

    Another great example of why people should avoid travel to or through the U.S. The creeps in Customs & Border Protection spent most of their time perving on her underwear & condoms.
    • First time she missed her bus & plan, had to spend $90 for a new cab & buy a new plane ticket.
    • Second time (pre-clearance in Montreal) she was extensively harassed and threatened with a bogus arrest for "adultery", but made her flight -- total time actually in U.S. was a 30 minute connect at MIA
    • On her return from Aruba she was forced to miss her flight & spent another $900 for a direct flight to Canada, plus a couple more nights hotel bill
    I wonder if any of these dimwitted thugs have the slightest understanding that a couple of the most common venereal diseases are completely asymptomatic in men but have dire consequences in women over time?

    Rabble.CA: Sexism at the border: A personal account

    What do you do when you're detained by powerful officials, everything you say is presumed deceptive, arbitrary "evidence" is held against you, and you're treated like a moral deviant? And what if its 2013, you're a woman, and the "evidence" is that you possess condoms?

    It happened three times in two weeks -- being detained by U.S. border officials on my way to or through the States.

    First I was held by Vermont border guards for two hours in the middle of the night on my way to visit Nashville. They searched my bags at least five times. I could not help but notice how often my lingerie and “sexy underwear” were mentioned, how often the condoms they found were looked upon scathingly, and how most of the four male officers’ questions pertained to both. I was baffled as to why this was any of their business and unsure of what their objective was, other than fondling lady’s undergarments. In the end, having nothing to go on, they gave me a limited stay visa of two weeks and let me go – at 3am in the middle of nowhere. I missed my bus and my plane, had to pay for a $90 taxi to the nearest airport and then book a new flight the next morning.

    The next time it happened was two weeks later in Montreal's airport. After scanning my passport, without being asked a single question, I was immediately led to a back waiting room. When I was summoned into an office, the officer cut to the chase: "How much is he paying you to go on this trip?" He was referring to the man I was travelling with.

    Confused, I just stared back at him for a few beats.


    The next question was whether this man was married or not. The answer, unfortunately for me, was yes. He asked whether I was planning on sharing a hotel bed with this man. I'm not one to sugar coat things and decided that now would not be a particularly good time to be found lying. Again, I answered yes. Righteous, the officer demanded what exactly I was doing in a bed with a married man.

    "That's actually none of your business."

    I had kicked the hornet's nest. Inflamed, he raised his voice at me that it was his business and that adultery was a crime in America -- a crime that he could deny me entry for. He made me tell him my partner's name and date of birth and threatened to detain him, too. I pointed out that we would be in Miami for a total of forty minutes to catch our next flight to Aruba; hardly enough time to run to our gate, let alone commit adultery. The next thing I knew he was searching my bags, pulling out condoms and waving them in my face.

    "I could have you charged with being a working girl! The proof is right here!"

    All I could do is shake my head. This can't be real.

    "This is absurd," I murmured. But he was on a roll.

    "You want me to call his wife? I'll tell her!"

    I raised an eyebrow at him.

    "She knows."

    He stormed off again, leaving me shaking. When he finally emerged from an office, he held my passport and tickets in hand. He told me he was letting me go "this time" because I had told the truth. But that I was an educated woman and should change my life to reflect that. I blinked at him.


    He looked at me meaningfully and repeated himself. I nodded, eyes downcast as if I was taking his moralizing into serious consideration, and took my documents. I was afraid that he would change his mind otherwise. Later, after a very short internet search, I found that adultery isn’t illegal in Florida, and even if I had been paid for the trip, mixing sexual and non-sexual activities constitutes a relationship and therefore makes any money exchanged a very legal gift under the law. Traveling together to Aruba to get away from cold Montreal, I would think, signals a non-sexual activity.
    A few days in the sun later, it was time to face the same routine but in the Aruban airport. Again, I would be spending all of an hour in Miami’s international airport and then carrying on to my home in Montreal. This time I had left the condoms behind. But it was too late – there was a detailed profile of me, in which my nefarious condom-carrying behaviour was noted. Again, I was told to sit and wait for further questioning.

    I watched as my entire flight's passengers whizzed through customs in front of me. I was shaking. By the time someone got around to questioning me, I was told my flight was leaving.

    I was detained, yelled at, patted down, fingerprinted, interrogated, searched, moved from room to room and person to person without food, water or being told what was going on for what seemed like forever. Just as I thought they were tiring of me and going to refuse me entry but at least let me back into Aruba, a ‘Bad Cop’ type took me to a distant, isolated office and yelled at me that I was full of (expletive deleted). He had found information online that in the last couple of years I had been modelling and acting. This, he concluded, was special code for sex work, and I was never going to enter the U.S.A. ever again. I tried not to laugh and cry at the same time. I told him I'm currently writing a book on the sociology of sexual assault.

    "Are you looking to be sexually assaulted?"

    I blinked at him. I couldn't breathe.

    "Was that meant to be funny?"

    "No, it wasn't."

    "Ah, no. I'm definitely not."

    "Well, it sure seems like you are."

    "... How so?"

    He wouldn't elaborate.

    I was with the U.S. officials for six hours. After two more hours put through the wringer with Aruban immigration, I was finally let go back into Aruba. I was told that if I even so much as approached the U.S. border again without a waiver I would be banned from the country for five years. My partner and I, both shaken, had to book a new flight to Canada that didn’t pass through the U.S. (approximately $900) and a hotel for an extra two days until that flight.

    For me, carrying my own condoms (in purses, wallets, camera bags; everywhere) is a routine act towards safer sex. For someone else with the power to not only deny passage but judge, moralize and intimidate, it has become enough evidence to put a woman through (expletive deleted). My story has brought a number of women out of the woodwork stating that they have had similar experiences.

    Whether border guards are copying police in New York and their condoms-as-evidence-of-prostitution model, or are simply so stuck in their gender stereotyping that a woman with condoms can’t be a good person (“We’ve been told that there’s nothing good about you,” said one Aruban official), I’m also not sure.

    I do know I won’t be travelling for some time, until my name is cleared. Or until the puritanical, power-tripping, slut-shaming witch hunt is over. I won’t hold my breath for either.

    [Clay Nikiforuk is a recent Creative Writing graduate from UBC and lives in Montreal. She is currently writing her first book exploring and critiquing the sociology of sexual assault. When not reading, writing or getting into vehement debates with strangers, she is dancing, taking pictures, and an avid potluck-attendee. ]
  2. Frank

    Frank Original Member

    Asstards like this gestapo thug are why everyone on the planet is avoiding US airspace whenever possible.
  3. I read this article when it was posted at the other place, and while I agree that she was treated rudely and inappropriately, as a fellow creative writing graduate I found her writerly treatment of her experiences to be coy and a bit evasive. I think she probably does have the markers of a prostitute in the eyes of CBP, and like it or not, prostitution is illegal and it's their job to intercept illegal activities that come across their path. Yes, they were total jerks to her, but then, she has a unique situation that she didn't fully explain to her readers. Why exactly is she sharing a bed with a married man, and his wife knows? Is this a polyamorous relationship or something? Does it have something to do with her book? This is a situation that would make a majority of readers at least scratch their heads. I agree it's none of CBP's business what goes on in their bedroom, and personally I think prostitution should be legal and decriminalized. But she's terribly offended and traumatized that her alternative lifestyle choices are mistaken for this other alternative lifestyle choice (prostitution), and she wants us to sympathize, and yet she doesn't want to explain her lifestyle to her readers. If it's also none of my business as a reader, I'm not so inclined to sympathize with her, because if I don't understand the whole situation I don't trust her analysis of it.

    I also wonder if she knows that her own country's customs routinely turns away Americans for decades old minor criminal offenses -- a single DUI, a single shoplifting offense, a single marijuana offense -- stuff done when people were young and stupid and have long since paid their debt to society. After watching the brilliant and likely realistic Canadian series "Trailer Park Boys" about a whole community of loveable career criminals, who in several episode work on smuggling pot across the US border to sell to glam rocker Sebastian Bach, I've always thought this was a big double standard on Canada's part.
  4. Mike

    Mike Founding Member Coach

    None of my business, none of your business, none of CBP's business. Many people start new relationships today before the old ones are legally wrapped up. CBP went south when they asked her about the condoms, and things deteriorated from there.

    I met my wife shortly before he managed to boot her not-yet-ex out their apartment and send him home to Mommy & Daddy's. It took another two years (~22 months or so) to deal with all the legalities and secure not only a divorce decree but a deferred judgment for his care & feeding in law school, which he never quite finished (one course & one bar exam short). We probably could have expedited things, but the useless slug was demanding support payments, so we went all out. :D

    It's also hard to imagine paying a call girl to make a run from Toronto to Aruba. Surely there's a plentiful supply more locally available?

    I've made dozens of trips (enough that we both had to have pages added to our last passports) to Europe, Singapore & Australia. I have never received a secondary inspection or question in any country except when I've returned to the U.S. Dealing with the *ssh*l*s in CPB is simply the worst part of many trips. They have the ability to make arbitrary & capricious decisions on a whim, which can cost unfortunately travelers hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in lost or added expenses, and they are well-known for having these attacks of whimsy on a routine basis. It is little wonder that so many people are now avoiding the U.S.

    Some more threads, eye-openers on CBP abuse & whimsy:
  5. Mike

    Mike Founding Member Coach

    Another key point -- lost on many Americans -- is that if this woman had been connecting in many foreign cities other than an American city, i.e. Miami -- she would have had no contact with local customs whatsoever. In many international air hubs -- Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Prague, Singapore, Sydney -- if you arrive on an international flight and leave on an international flight, you just stay in the international section of the airport. Some airports, e.g. Amsterdam & Singapore, even have airside hotels to accommodate international passengers.

    The U.S. is really out of touch with the rest of the world when it comes to dealing with international travelers.
  6. I'm taking the time to read this piece, I'm expected to sympathize with the writer, there's an interesting detail dangled in front of me, and then I'm supposed to just forget it because it's none of my business? If it really isn't my business, maybe "none of your business" is a topic worthy of a paragraph. Otherwise, as a reader, I feel dicked around. My problem is that the piece really doesn't do enough to place itself in a larger context. This writer is some kind of social activist or researcher (she's writing a book about sexual assault) so I assume her goal as a writer is not only to share a story about her experience with rude CBP agents, but to place the story in a broader context of sexual abuse, judgement, and the normalizing of alternative lifestyles. She implies as much when she mentions her book. So in this context, to me, the nature of her relationship is relevant, or at least some discussion on why it's wrong for me to want to know.

    And if in fact this is a new relationship that was established before the man's divorce finalized, is it really an invasion of her privacy to explain that to her readers? Readers who she is comfortable telling about her choice of birth control (condoms) and the fact that she wears sexy underwear? That's what coy to me about this article -- she lets us in on half the sexy part of the story, but then we're supposed to pretend like it isn't interesting because she wants her privacy. For me, that doesn't add up.

    I have no real sympathy for CBP in this situation, and no judgement for the writer's sexual relationship. I just think the essay could be better developed.
  7. Mike

    Mike Founding Member Coach

    She's only letting you in on those aspects where the CBP pig invaded her privacy. She doesn't owe anyone an explanation.
    Caradoc likes this.
  8. Mike

    Mike Founding Member Coach

    I was typing on my 'droid & didn't have time to continue to the next sentence, but my next thought was ...

    We hand condoms out freely to kids in junior high school, even grade school, yet a young, single woman is harassed at a border crossing for carrying something that most people today consider a sign of responsibility? And a woman possessing sexy lingerie? When did it become illegal to shop @ Victoria's secret?

    U.S. border practices need to evolve and be more like Europe, where people are free to move about in an international community with little or no harassment. Think of how wonderful it would be if we could achieve an American version of Schengen? It could be achieved today with the U.S. & Canada but politicians & apparatchiks on both sides are too parochial & short-sighted to see any light at the end of the tunnel. South of the border will take a lot more work, but that should be a goal.

    Even former Iron Curtain countries today participate in Schengen. On our last trip in Europe, we boarded a train in Austria, traveled through Slovakia, the Czech Republic & former East Germany to Berlin, where hopped off the long-haul at Südkreuz* and took local trains to our hotel. We didn't have to present papers (other than having tickets punched by the conductor) to anyone for the entire trip.

    How did we get to Vienna? By plane from Warsaw, via Munich. We used our passports as ID's to the check in with LH, but beyond that there were only the usual airport security checks.

    One other point: The Schengen agreements actually require that participating countries disband their former customs and immigration services. Passport controls, where they exist, must be staffed by normal police officers.

    In Europe in 1960, traveling from Norway where we lived for 3 years, we had to stop & present my mother's passport & father's NATO orders in every country along the way to Italy & back. Today those papers would stay in the suitcases unless a hotel staffer demanded to see them.

    This is the direction the U.S. badly needs to take in order to remain a decent participant in the international community.

    *Just realized I've been in two "Southern Cross" train stations on opposite ends of the world -- Berlin & Melbourne. :)
  9. Frank

    Frank Original Member

    Since NYPD made it a crime.

Share This Page