TSA forces Muslim woman to show menstrual pad in private airport screening
A Muslim woman, Zainab Merchant, was harassed and forced to show her bloodied pad by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials during a recent airport screening. Merchant says the officials refused to provide her their identifications to avoid any legal complaints.
As a frequent flier, Merchant told the Huffington Post she has been pulled aside many times during flights for extra security screenings and pat downs. However, her most recent flight was an extra layer of traumatizing, as she was escorted by TSA officials into a private room after they intrusively patted her groin area. At first, Merchant refused and asked that additional screenings occur in public. TSA officials threatened that state troops would need to intervene if she did not cooperate with a private airport screening.
According to the Huffington Post, TSA officials then demanded she pull down her pants and underwear. When Merchant objected and stated she was on her period, she was told to provide proof. Merchant complied and revealed her bloodied mentrual pad. When she asked for the officers’ identification numbers and names, they simply walked away.
The American Civil Libeties Union (ACLU) filed a complaint with Homeland Security on Merchant’s behalf, believing she was placed on a government watchlist.
The ACLU discovered Merchant has a history of intrusive government searches. One past example is when TSA ordered an explosives unit to examine her, despite being cleared minutes before.
“Every single time, I was being put through extra screening,” Merchant explained. “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.”
Merchant also states officials have asked her about her beliefs and thoughts about ISIS. The ACLU argues this violates her First Amendment rights.
Being placed on a government watchlist and targeted for intrusive screenings is a constant worry for many Muslim Americans. It is also an example of the many ways structural Islamophobia takes place in government. The airport has become the site where the Muslim ban, TSA checks, and anti-Muslim policies intersect to enact on visibly Muslim people.
“We have every reason to believe that they are not just doing this to Zainab. We hear from other people presenting similar issues,” Hugh Handeyside, an ACLU senior staff attorney, told Huffington Post.