Are Strip Searches and TSA Pat-Downs Sexual Abuse?

Illustration for article titled Are Strip Searches and TSA Pat-Downs Sexual Abuse?

This week, the Supreme Court ruled that it was perfectly within the rights of police officers to strip search every person arrested for every offense, even if they had no reason to believe the arrested person was carrying any contraban. The majority opinion reasoned that strip searching was necessary to protect the safety of jail occupants, but it didn't sit well with many citizens concerned that, like almost every other privilege the law affords them, rogue police officers would abuse this one, too. But is there a more sinister component to allowing the cops to take your clothes off after you get caught jaywalking? Is a strip search a form of sexual bullying designed to keep the populace in check?

Naomi Wolf thinks so. In The Guardian, she writes that the Court's logic — that perhaps a strip search could have prevented 9/11 — makes no sense on its own. "How would strip searching him have prevented the attack? Did Justice Kennedy imagine that plans to blow up the Twin Towers had been concealed in a body cavidy?" she asks. She thinks that giving authorities the right to remove citizens' clothes for flimsy reasons is tantamount to giving the government the power to break down and dehumanize its citizens.

Enforced nudity has a long history of being used as a tool to keep people feeling weak and subjugated. Female slaves, for example, were placed naked on the auction block. Prisoners of war are frequently stripped and emasculated to keep their morale down. Prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have their clothes removed at whim. Albert Florence, the man who originally filed suit after being strip searched, was told to spread his buttcheeks and move his genitalia around so that officers could make sure he was, I don't know, not hiding a tiny, taint-sized gun up there. He reported that the experience was humiliating.


Wolf believes that a new breed of law designed to combat citizen uprising doesn't promote safety at all; rather, it's the latest depressing step toward a police state and to keep citizens in a continual state of fear of their government. It's even happening to non-prisoners, to anyone who dare attempt to fly through an airport. She writes,

I have watched male police and TSA members standing by side by side salaciously observing women as they have been "patted down" in airports. I have experienced the weirdly phrased, sexually perverse intrusiveness of the state during an airport "pat-down", which is always phrased in the words of a steamy paperback ("do you have any sensitive areas? … I will use the back of my hands under your breasts …"). One of my Facebook commentators suggested, I think plausibly, that more women are about to be found liable for arrest for petty reasons (scarily enough, the TSA is advertising for more female officers).

Awesome. More of that creepy underboob swipe they do while you try to stare straight ahead and not make eye contact with anyone else being patted down. Just what America needs.

Meanwhile, more than 850,000 Americans currently have "top secret" security clearance, and more than 3,200 companies work to promote so-called "homeland security." Is it any wonder that what once would have sounded like the paranoid ramblings of loon are actually now valid concerns based on reality? Pass the foil. I have a hat to make.


How the US uses sexual bullying as a political tool to control the masses [The Guardian]

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Seize: it's about ethics in gossip journalism

Well, exams by doctors aren't abuse, even when they're very invasive. So the questions we really need to ask are:

1) Are the pat-downs necessary for human safety?

2) Is the highest possible degree of privacy being afforded subjects during an otherwise invasive search?

3) Are pat-downs being conducted according to rigorous, evidence-based and consistent rules?

4) Have persons conducting the pat-downs been trained to competently administer the pat-downs as described in 3, and with sensitivity to the cultural differences regarding privacy expectations that they might reasonably encounter among their test subjects?