In what could only be described as a horrifying example of Islamophobia and intolerance in the United States, a Muslim woman named Zainab Merchant was reportedly forced to show Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers her menstrual pad during an invasive airport screening in Boston, Massachusetts.
Merchant, who is a U.S. citizen and a graduate student at the Harvard University, was traveling to Washington D.C. for a speaking engagement when the traumatizing incident took place, according to the HuffPost.
Like most Muslims and members of other religious and racial minorities, the 27-year-old was expecting additional security check at the airport, so she decided to get there two hours before her flight was scheduled. While Merchant had gone through rather lengthy screenings in the past, she was not prepared for the humiliation she was about to experience.
According to the report, a TSA officer publicly patted down Merchant’s groin area before telling other officials she needed to take a “deeper look.” When asked for a private screening, the woman informed the officers she was on her periods thus wearing a sanitary pad, but they persisted.
In fact, the mother-of-three claimed she was forbidden to call her lawyer and was told that state troopers would have to intervene if she didn’t comply.
Once they were inside the private room, the TSA officials allegedly ordered Merchant to pull down her pants and underwear, leaving her with no other choice but to follow through. After the disturbing search, the woman reportedly asked the officers to tell her their names so she could report the gross invasion of her privacy, but they covered their badges and walked away.
“Every single time, I was being put through extra screening,” she said. “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.”
Now, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a formal complaint with the Department of Homeland Security on Merchant's behalf.
“Zainab’s travel experiences follow a clear pattern,” wrote the non-profit organization. “She is unable to obtain or print out her boarding passes before arriving at the airport, so she has to wait an hour or more at the ticket counter while airline employees call a number in Washington to see if they can clear her to fly. Transportation Security Administration screeners then run her through a gauntlet at security checkpoints — a process that can take another hour.”
In an op-ed published in The Washington Post, Merchant recalled her several interactions with TSA employees and how she had been subjected to additional screening – including the time her family was detained overnight in a warehouse when they were returning from their trip to Canada.
In another instance, officers asked Merchant to give them her phone password, which she was forced to provide so that the matters don’t escalate.
The ACLU also suggested that Merchant could have been unfairly placed on a government terrorism watchlist.
“Zainab’s terrible experience is yet another indication of the unfairness of the watch-listing system and the harms it inflicts on individual lives,” the organization added. “We’re calling on DHS to stop singling Zainab out for this treatment, investigate the conduct of TSA and CBP officers, and turn over any relevant records. It’s the least that justice demands.”
However, in a statement to Bustle, TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said “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 watch lists or reveal any law enforcement sensitive information.”
Thumbnail / Banner : Nadia Hallgren/ACLU