Selling a false sense of security

Martha Hampel, 11 October 2012  •  Comments

One concern among many against the proposed justice center, particularly the thousands of sexual- and physical-assault survivors in Johnson County, is the type of screening that will be implemented at the new Courthouse entrance should the bond issue pass.

Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek has said "… what the new place would bring is the ability to do the screening process just like you’re going into an airport."

These screening procedures will be imposed on everyone who enters the building, from employees to witnesses to members of the general public.

It has been argued that the proposed screening process is meant to help survivors and witnesses feel safe, but many of us are convinced this would not be the case. Whether implemented in a Courthouse or airport, TSA-style screening would be a nightmare for many sexual and physical assault survivors. Simply the act of a security guard passing a wand around a survivor’s body can cause a feeling of re-victimization.

Still more frightening is the body pat down that would follow should the metal-detecting device sound an alarm. Even the thought of being funneled through a checkpoint can induce claustrophobia and a feeling of helplessness.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center explains, "Sexual-assault survivors in particular may experience severe panic, anxiety, stress and confusion because of events of prior victimization. Some examples include feelings of re-victimization due to being touched by a stranger; the full-body scanner may cause strong reactions for adult and child sexual assault survivors whose assault/attack included photographs of them being taken and/or shared. Pat downs administered by someone of the same gender may be difficult for adults and children whose perpetrators were of the same gender. Distressing emotional reactions may result for parent/caregiver survivors of child sexual assault after witnessing their children being patted down."

This type of screening process is simply not necessary in Johnson County. Nothing has happened in our Courthouse to warrant such fear and invasive screening procedures.

Proponents of the bond issue at claim "the threat is real" and cite only four examples of violence in courthouses in other states.

If one is going to use "it’s just a matter of time" reasoning, TSA-style screening should be set up in Iowa’s convenience stores and other locations where violence has actually occurred.

It is our opinion that the issue of supposed inadequate security is being used to simply generate fear in order to insure a "yes" vote on the costly and ineffective "County Justice Center." We resent this misleading marketing strategy and demand real transparency as it pertains to the risk of violence in our Courthouse.

Martha Hampel
Iowa City resident