Zainab Merchant has been getting pulled aside for screenings at the airport since the past two years. But a recent incident made her realise it's time to speak up.
Huffington Post reports that the Harvard graduate was traveling from Boston to Washington DC where she was already expecting the Transportation Security Administration to pull her aside for a screening.
What Zainab did not expect was a call for a "deeper look" after a TSA officer publicly patted her down with more focus on her groin area. Zainab explained she was on her period and was wearing a pad, but the officers took her for an additional screening. When she questioned it the response was given that if she did not comply, state troopers who were on standby would intervene.
Zainab was pressured into a private screening, not allowed to call her lawyer. She was taken to a room where TSA officers demanded she pull down her pants and underwear. She had to comply, revealing a bloodied menstrual pad.
Afterwards she asked for the names and badges of the officers who forced her aside but the officers left, covering their badges. Zainab had wanted to file a complaint about her ordeal, which was one of many she had to endure for the past two years. She has, since the incident, filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security through the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
“Every single time, I was being put through extra screening,” Zainab told The Huffington Post, adding, “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 ACLU, a US-based rights organisation, believes that Zainab has been put under a government watchlist and want to resolve the case. Unfortunately for Zainab, it has not gotten easy since she spoke out.
“I knew that there was some kind of watchlist and so many people are on it,” she said. “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.”
In a statement emailed to Bustle on Thursday, TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said that "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."