Strip Searches Strip Our Liberty

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone can be strip-searched when arrested, for any offense, at any time. The majority was composed of the more libertarian side of the court who claim to value liberty over all.


Albert Florence, who initiated the suit, had been stopped for a driving violation. Once taken into custody he was told to “turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.” He felt humiliated, “It made me feel like less of a man.”

Naomi Wolf points out the absurdity of the reasoning. Justice Kennedy suggested that a 9/11 bomber could have been stopped for speeding. And strip searching him would have prevented the attack? Plans to blow up the twin towers may have been concealed in a body cavity? Or, weapons and contraband could be brought into the prison system, Kennedy continued. Yet those merely under arrest haven’t yet made it into the prison population.

Wolf goes on to warn,

Believe me: you don’t want the state having the power to strip your clothes off. History shows that the use of forced nudity by a state that is descending into fascism is powerfully effective in controlling and subduing populations.

Forcing people to undress is the first step in breaking down a sense of individuality and dignity and reinforcing powerlessness. Enslaved women were sold naked on the blocks in the American south, and adolescent male slaves served young white ladies at table in the south, while they themselves were naked: their invisible humiliation was a trope for their emasculation. Jewish prisoners herded into concentration camps were stripped of clothing and photographed naked, as iconic images of that Holocaust reiterated.

While TSA pat-downs are routine in the US, they are illegal in Britain. Wolf believes that the genital groping policy “is designed to psychologically habituate US citizens to a condition in which they are demeaned and sexually intruded upon by the state – at any moment.”

Interesting, and scary. Especially since cargo holds are not always routinely checked for bombs. And nuclear and chemical plants are not adequately guarded. All because companies want to avoid costs and delays. And yet we must put up with pat-downs, x-ray cameras and strip searches at the airport?

Meanwhile, a facility is being set up in Utah by the NSA to monitor everything all the time. And recent laws have criminalized protest. Where are we headed, Wolf wonders.

I doubt there is a clear plan to psychologically subdue the U.S. population through sexual terrorism. But so long as we all sheepishly submit to it, the techniques could potentially become a tool for our submission.

And the fact that such tools are upheld by the libertarian side of the bench leaves me wondering how pro-freedom they really are. Is it liberty for all? Or just liberty for powerful police and powerful corporations? The rest of us had better submit.

See entire article @ Naomi Wolf, “How the US Uses Sexual Humiliation as a Political Tool to Control the Masses,” Common Dreams

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 20, 2012, in politics/class inequality, psychology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. zaineb alkhaleef

    “Forcing people to undress is the first step in breaking down a sense of individuality and dignity and reinforcing powerlessness.” I agree and find it humiliating. Almost everytime i’m at the airport, I’m always chosen for a pat down search because I believe it’s my head scarf. It’s so annoying to someone feel my body from head to toe due to racialprofiling. When I was 14, on my way to visit the Middle East they stopped my family and I for a search in the US. I had to take my shoes, coat, and socks off! We almost missed our flight. I felt so violated, they didn’t even search the men in the family.

  2. I keep trying to differentiate this from the virginity tests in Egypt, and the only differences I can find is that, in the US, 1)the search is carried out to find pot or weapons instead of virginity and 2) strip-searches are legal and routine but in Egypt they were a one-off, done by a despotic regime and very controversial among the general public.

    The police can stop and search in Britain but only if they have reason to suspect you are carrying an offensive weapon, and it must be a same-sex police officer who searches you and, as you said, they can’t ask you to take any clothes off cos that is a crime.

    Allowing strip-searching in non-exceptional circumstances is very undemocratic and a violation of human rights, also dangerous as it could allow sexual assault or sexual harrassment.

  3. I think the response to this is difficult. Hiding contraband or other harmful paraphernalia is a serious danger. On the other hand, I can clearly see how such a policy could be abused. One could regulate a two person witnessing agreement similar to the laws regulating a recitation of a criminal’s bill of rights. Civil servants there specifically to monitor; written reports. Immediate consultation of violations after bookings. But you cannot regulate fair treatment. There will always be a loop hole to whatever protection is provided. (In some cases the loop might be too large and hangs the person) Then there are problems of deregulation and amendments it’s all so tiresome and complicated…

  4. People that are more likely to commit crimes that will lead to strip search, are poor people. One already gets strip searched when going to jail. I can’t imagine getting a speeding ticket and gettong strip searched, spread them and cough. These laws are ridiculous and is a way how the government is getting out of hand. I believe that politicians sometimes make laws up just to distract us from the real issues. People that are most likely to get pulled over and get harassed are the poor. These laws are not helping anybody, they are just making people mad and we are getting caught up in political games. Our tax money at its best, we pay these clowns to make these laws. that is the sad thing about this whole situation.

  5. Just being searched by police officers is already embarrassing and humiliating but I can’t even imagine being searched while naked. Some people are very self conscious about the way their bodies look and therefore being forced to get naked in front of an authoritative figure that he or she doesn’t know is simply wrong. This law would give police officers more power which I believe they do not need because a lot of them use the power they have in the wrong way. Many police and authoritative figures abuse their power. Being forced to strip naked is a violation of constitutional rights. This law violates our right to privacy and it allows for the police to take advantage of and misuse their authority.

  6. I think that the Supreme Court has gone too far many of its decisions lately, but this one is right up there at the top. I also thought of the scene in Crash when I heard about this decision. While there are good police officers out there, most of them are just looking for a reason to harass people, usually young males. Granting them the power to strip search anyone, wherever for whatever reason is unbelievable, I guess that is why some people (too many, in my opinion) are not even aware that the Supreme Court made this decision. I have heard that in Egypt during the Arab spring last year, that many women were arrested, and then strip searched and humiliated in the prisons. Many of these women were not doing anything that the men were, and they felt that they were arrested specifically so that the officers could see their naked bodies. If they had any sort of tan lines or anything they received harsher punishments. I think it is crazy that this is considered legal in the united states of Americas, where we are supposed to be about equality and freedom. Even the TSA pat downs and body scanners are extremely intrusive and can cause some to be traumatized, especially victims of sexual violence or abuse. It really makes me sick, I have heard that the officers see a pretty woman or child and they then “randomly” select them for a pat down, even if they already went through the body scanners. The abuse of power is already happening, and I believe that police officers will go out of their way to target young women, to humiliate them and to get off on seeing their naked bodies.
    I myself was once arrested in high school for marijuana and I was handcuffed and had to wait until a woman officer showed up to physically search me. It didn’t seem that bad because it was a woman, but even that could cause some people to feel uncomfortable, and I still would not want a woman officer to be able to strip search me for any reason they decide. It seems like these officers are terrorizing more people than any so called terrorists.

  7. While I do believe in a generally “strong” central government, I also believe that ours has taken it a step to far. As a racial minority, I have plenty of experience dealing with power hungry officers and giving them the power to strip-search during arrest is too much. I understand the intention behind the law (to protect officers) but there is a line that must be drawn between freedom and security.

    If some one has bad intentions, strip searching them wont stop them according to the article, and I completely agree. It wont stop a murder, it wont stop a guy from speeding and it cant prevent most things if someone is determined. Supreme court has gone too far on this one.

    “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”

  8. What is our world coming to? This post reminds me of the movie Crash. There is a scene where a couple is pulled over for performing oral sex in the car, so the cop (white male) asks the couple (black man and woman) to step out the car. He then sexually assaults the black woman in front of her husband. In this situation you see race being part of a hierarchy, but where the woman is being stripped of her dignity. I think this law will justify a police office sexually assaulting women, and then when she tries to fight it how will she win when its law. People are being dehumanize just to justify their perversion. It is unconstitutional and before it is taken into affect (physically) it should be stopped.

    Above comment about pot smoking. I do believe that she was singled out because she was the only girl. I haven’t been around pot too much, but the times I’ve had we’ve all smelled like weed, and the officer was just making an excuse to strip search her.

  9. I believe that strip searching should not be made legally. Preferably because it’s ridiculous. In custody or not, a person should have their individual rights. Especially when the cops decides to pull someone over and do this “strip” search because they feel obligated to do so. To tell someone to take all their clothing off is one thing, but to tell them to squat down and cough is another thing. It’s uncomfortable and most likely will make a person feel less of themselves. More like, having the feeling like they are meaningless. The cops are more likely to have the upper hand in almost all situations because they are cops. They may do wrong, but still get away with it. No one can tell them other wise because whatever they chose to do, us as the outsiders have to follow and abide by their rules. Personally, I believe that no cop is a “good” cop, only because I have seen and been thru it. They like to take advantage of situations, either to make it worst or make it better. They are protected under the law and there is not enough power to over rule them. Making strip searching legal will only make things worst.

  10. Not only is this a violation of our rights as individuals, it perpetuates fear and terror. By making such a law, it implies that such a law is necessary; that things are so bad that we really must resort to nudity and humiliation in order to maintain public safety. This step towards “safety” is actually a step closer to terrorism– not only is such an act morally degrading, but it can lead to long-term psychological damage.

  11. I think strip searching is absolutely violating, even pat down searches are uncomfortable. I think its hypocritical of people saying that they defend liberty wanting such a violating and perhaps traumatizing (for some…) experience for safety. Like mentioned in the post, stripping people of their clothes leaves them in a vunerable and perhaps “subordinate” way. I think, while this is an attempted measure to gain security I see many potential problems; particularly the abuse of power and misconduct. Interesting post, I fly quite often and absolutely hate the body scanners, I think when they became legal there was a similar controversy, people feel it is a violation of our constitutional rights.

  12. Legal strip searches are you kidding me? My sophomore year of high school I cut class to go smoke pot with four boys. Cops pull up, apparently I’m the only one who smells like weed. One male cop is there says he needs to search me. I need to remove my oversized sweatshirt hoodie so I’m clad in my skimpy revealing nighty-tank top. And remove my Ugg boots so I am standing on the dirty street cement in my socks. He “searches” me everywhere. Finds nothing and sends me and the rest of us on our way warning us to never do this again. Totally illigimate search. Giving cops the right to legally strip search, in custody or not is unconstitutional. I agree that history has proven to us that nude searches are violating and humiliating and do not unify the country. I’d be interested in the targets of such searches and the searchers who conduct them. Rich white Christian man searches women, blacks, gays, jews basically everything except other rich white white Christian men and they’re protected under the law?

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