The woman recalls her traumatic encounter and how the ordeal was a violation to her rights as a woman.
“The 13th of September was a day which I’d been anticipating as I was going home for my younger sister’s party. This was something my parents and I had spent months preparing for and it was something I looked forward to especially because I hadn’t been home in months.
On the day I was due to board my flight at one of South Africa’s international airports, I arrived early for check-in and decided to go to ladies while I still had time. Upon arrival in the bathroom, I realised there was a wallet just above the tissue holder in the cubicle I was in.
Almost immediately after noticing the wallet a woman knocked on my door requesting the wallet and knowing the inconvenience that comes with losing a wallet I instantly slid it back to her under the door.
I was relieved on her behalf as I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of losing a wallet. But shortly afterwards I heard the woman screaming that there’s money missing from her wallet. This prompted the accusation that I had stolen money from it.
I immediately finished what I was doing in the bathroom to attend to the woman, to assure her that I have no knowledge of the missing money and that I hadn’t touched the wallet prior to her arrival. Still convinced that I took the money, the woman informed airport security and continued the accusation that I had stolen money from her wallet.
Without asking me for my version of the story, the security called the police. At this point I became frustrated and called my mother to inform her of the situation while we waited for the police to arrive.
At the same time the woman was harassing and following me around, screaming and interrupting my phone calls. I was further frustrated by this even though I already agreed to co-operate and had already offered my luggage (my handbag and laptop bag) to be searched.
All of this is occurring just moments as I’m about to board my flight.
A police officer finally arrives and she explains her story to him. The officer decides to call a female officer to search me. All this while, no one has asked for my version of the story and any attempt from me to do so was dismissed.
The only interaction made with me was to ask if I had any money on me and to ask for my permission to be searched. While I did agree to be searched, I felt I was intimidated into this decision as I was already being treated as a criminal. I felt the only way to prove my innocence was to agree to be searched.
When it was discovered that I indeed had no money on me making the accusation false, I requested the names of the security guards and police officers involved. Upon this request some disappeared, others refused to give me their details and two of them gave me their names.
I managed to make contact with the airport through Twitter and further met a representative upon which a case was opened. However, after a few weeks had passed I received a phone call notifying me that my case was dismissed.
According to the officer on the call, my case was dismissed because I’d given consent to be searched and statements from other parties all agreed with this. While I also had opened a case for defamation of character and intimidation, I was confused to hear that the central point of the investigation became of that consent.
Placing consent as the central factor of the case protects those who violated me during those events. It conceals underlying factors such as the abuse of power which greatly influenced the events of that day. It also dismisses consequences such as social anxiety which as a frequent traveller I now have to face when I’m in an airport environment.
The psychological trauma which I still face today and which has also affected other areas of my life doesn’t seem to be acknowledged or recognised in the justice systems. The procedure I endured at the airport was inhumane and a great violation of my rights.
At no point in this procedure were my rights considered nor did I feel protected by any laws and the incident. I’m deeply traumatised that I was treated as less than a human and undermined in every single way based on an accusation which holds no merit and has no evidence.”
*Not her real name