Twenty-seven-year-old Zainab Merchant was traveling from Boston to Washington, D.C., for business when she was forced to show TSA agents her bloody menstrual pad during a patdown. According to The Cut, agents at the Boston airport singled her out during the standard security check. Merchant says that the officer brought a hand to her groin, and requested a “deeper look.” Though she tried to explain the padding in the area, letting them know she was on her period and wearing a menstrual pad, the TSA agent forced her into a private room with another TSA officer in tow.
While in the room, the officers requested that she pull her pants and underwear down. After doing so, the TSA agents began to leave. Though Merchant attempted to get their badge numbers and identification, she said that both agents covered their badges with their hands as they left.
This isn’t the first time that Merchant has been stopped while at the airport. She states that she’s been stopped almost every time she’s traveled over the past two years. Merchant, a journalist based out of Florida, is also a Harvard grad student. She runs a website, Zainab Rights, which focuses on culture, trends, and world events.
Now, the American Civil Liberties Union has taken on Merchant’s case. They believe she is on “a government watchlist,” and filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security for her. Additionally, they are calling for an investigation into the two officers, who are currently unidentified, who performed the “intrusive, humiliating,” and “unnecessary” search.
DHS has said they are unable to “confirm or deny” whether or not Merchant is on a watch list. At present, the TSA has not responded to any requests for comments.
“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,” said Merchant.
This isn’t the first time the TSA has been called out for bad behavior, according to The Cut. In 2015, it was announced that agents would be retrained after the ACLU lobbied on behalf of African-American women who repeatedly had their natural hair searched. In 2012, singer Solange Knowles tweeted “my hair is not a storage drawer” after TSA agents in Florida searched her afro. Former MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris-Perry wrote a letter to John Pistole, who had been the head of the TSA at the time.
“If your $170,000 machine can see under my clothes, but can’t figure out I’m not hiding a bomb in my braids, maybe it’s time to recalibrate the machine,” she said.