Woman allegedly forced to take down underwear and show bloodied sanitary pad to airport staff
The shocking incident happened when Harvard University graduate student and writer Zainab Merchant was flying from Boston to Washington
A horrifying and shocking incident wherein a young Muslim woman was allegedly forced to take her knickers down and show airport staff her bloodied sanitary pad, has gone viral and sparked outrage.
According to reports, the shocking incident happened when Harvard University graduate student and writer Zainab Merchant was flying from Boston to Washington, D.C in order to attend a speaking engagement. At Boston Logan airport, Zainab said she was patted down by two female officers.
A Harvard University graduate and mother of three has filed a complaint over invasive airport and border security checks, one of which allegedly resulted in her being forced to partially undress while on her period. https://t.co/zeLuoQq0wf— Globalnews.ca (@globalnews) August 24, 2018
Then a female Transportation Security Administration (TSA) patted Merchant down as a second female officer enquired, "Is this the selectee we were waiting for?" The officers proceeded to remove Zainab's surgery brace which she needed post a tailbone injury and things went from bad to worse, Huffington Post reported.
After they touched her groin, Zainab said the first officer told her that they would require a "deeper look" and to Zainab's horror, she was told she would have to go through a private screening.
She attempted to explain to the officers that she had her period and what the officers were feeling was her sanitary towel but to no avail.
When she was in the private room, she was forbidden from calling her lawyer and was forced to take her knickers down and show the TSA officers her bloodied pad, as reported by Huffington Post. Once she had complied with their insane demand, she asked for their names but they ignored her and concealed their name badges.
This is not the first time that Zainab has experienced such inhuman treatment and she has been the victim to many excessive checks while traveling. She has been asked a lot of questions about her faith to the extent of being asked about her thoughts on the ISIS.
Officers have also referred to her website Zainab Rights and have questioned her for criticizing the US policy. Zainab told the Huffington Post, "Every single time, I was being put through extra screening. It was the same exact thing every time. By the third time it happened, I realized this is not random. There is definitely a pattern to this, and I’m on some kind of list that is making me go through this again and again".
The American Civil Liberties Union took to filing a formal complaint with the Department of Homeland Security on her behalf asking for an end to her being singled out while traveling. The complaint was signed by Hugh Handeyside, who is a senior staff attorney at the ACLU handling Merchant's case.
"We have every reason to believe that they are not just doing this to Zainab. We hear from other people presenting similar issues. This is a major concern for members of Muslim communities, members of Arab or Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian communities," Handeyside shared.
Merchant attempted to reach out to Department of Homeland Security’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program to try and understand why she was even on the list in the first place. She received a letter from the DHS stating that could not "confirm or deny" whether she is on any federal watch list.
She also tried to apply to Global Entry which is a Customs and Border Protection program which allows expedited clearance for approved travelers. However, her application was denied.
A TSA spokesperson shared, "The Department of Homeland Security can neither confirm nor deny whether someone is on a watch list or provide any information about an individual who may be on federal watchlists or reveal any law enforcement sensitive information".
A CBP spokesperson shared that the agency could not "comment on pending litigation" but that it "took all allegations seriously and investigates all formal complaints".
"It’s important for the public to understand, it’s important for courts, it’s important for the government to understand that when you do this to someone repeatedly, when you single them out, when rifle through their belongings in front of everybody and when you do that again at the gate in front of passengers they are about to travel with, you are exacting a real psychological mental toll," Handeyside shared.
"You’re putting these people through highly stigmatizing experiences," he continued. Merchant has shared that as a result of speaking out, she has had family and friends keep their distance from her while some have chosen to cut her off entirely.
"I knew that there was some kind of watchlist and so many people are on it. But to find out that people are afraid to speak out because they don’t want to be further targeted and seeing so many of my own people and my own community members on this — I’m just very shocked," Merchant shared.
"I hope that they hear us loud and clear. I’m not going to stop fighting for my rights. This is affecting us on a daily basis now. I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to give up, no matter what happens. I just want them to give us answers as to why this is happening and what I can do to rectify it, because I haven’t done anything wrong. Just give us some answers," she continued.