Where is the humanity?
You ladies out there — my wife, my daughters, my sisters, my sisters-in-law, my aunts, nieces and cousins, my students, my colleagues, my friends — what if you were going to be subjected to a body cavity search? What would you do?
What is a body cavity search, you ask?
According to a Wikipedia article, it is “either a visual search or a manual internal inspection of body cavities…for prohibited material such as illegal drugs, money, jewelry, or weapons”. The article goes on to say that the cavities and orifices involved include the nostrils, ears, mouth, navel, urethra and foreskin of the penis, vagina, and rectum, and that the body cavity search is “far more invasive than the standard strip search that is typically performed on individuals taken into custody, either upon police arrest or incarceration at a jail, prison, or psychiatric hospital”.
So now that you know, what would you do? Resist vigorously? Call for your lawyer? Bawl down the place? Bring down fire and brimstone? Or submit meekly? It depends?
If you were going to be searched in an airport by Customs police, you would have no choice but to submit? And in a jail or in police custody?
Let’s say you were at work in an office of the Public Service (not the Police Service!) or at home, would you submit easily?
One thing I am sure of is that, whether you consider yourself guilty or not, the cavity search would be done against your will — especially if you consider yourself innocent. If you are innocent of whatever charge or act, you would consider it a disgusting, dignity-robbing invasion and violation by strangers. A rape of body and spirit. An indelible assault on your personhood.
This is what I think happened to Carla Batson-Orr at one of the offices of Division of Education, Youth and Sports of the Tobago House of Assembly. Now, I don’t know if Carla is guilty or innocent of the act that occasioned the search, but I am appalled at the fact that she was cavity-searched given what appear to be the circumstances under which the search was performed. And I unreservedly and unapologetically condemn that search!
Apparently, a flash drive had gone missing at the office and Carla was suspected by higher-ups of having stolen it on Thursday, September 5. On Monday, September 9, a full four days after the alleged theft had taken place, the police went to the office at the behest of the higher-ups, arrested her, and forced her to undergo a manual body-cavity search, presumably one that included her vagina and rectum. They did not find the flash drive.
Carla had not been incarcerated. She was not at a port where she was a suspect for carrying illegal items. She seems to have been subjected to the indignity merely on the word of one of the higher-ups, Ginelle Williams, human resource co-ordinator. Her attorney, Martin George, would report as follows:
‘Without having any search warrant, one of the [two] female officers…conducted an illegal search of our client’s desk, cabinet and her personal possessions, including her handbag. They scattered the contents across her desk, strewing all her personal feminine items for all in the office to see.
‘Our client was told she had to strip off her clothes for a full body search to be conducted. [She] was bawling and blubbering loudly and crying and protesting this invasion of her privacy and this utter indignity and humiliation to her person but with the clear and direct encouragement of the administrator and human resource coordinator. They all insisted that our client must strip off all her clothes right there in this office in her workplace, and the police officers laughed and told our client, ‘This is what happens with a search.’ She was told if she did not comply she would be charged with obstructing police officers in their duties.
‘She was made to squat three times and a search of her private parts was subsequently conducted.’
Now, tell me. If we are to believe counsel, Carla had her vagina (and perhaps her rectum) searched for a flash drive that did not turn up. She blubbered and bawled and cried and protested. She was threatened with a charge for obstruction if she did not comply. She complied… and the flash drive was not found.
This police act was so excessive in the circumstances that Heflin George, the Assistant Commissioner in charge of the police in Tobago, who seemed unaware that a search had been authorised, declared himself shocked.
I am more than shocked. I am appalled! Not only by the disgusting invasion, but by the absurdity of it. As Gerry MacFarlane would observe in his Channel 5 programme, what did the police think Carla did? Go home with the flash drive on Thursday, took it out, bathe, put it back in, took it out, bathe and repeat the process up to Monday of the following week when the police came to search her? Did they think she had the flash drive inside her on Monday – four days after stealing it? Really?
And what are we to make of Chief Secretary London taking more than a week to comment on the incident and reminding us, when he did, that while he did not condone the actions of the police, we can’t tell the police how to do their work?
Really? The police can now act without restraint against the citizenry? We cannot tell them when they are exceeding their authority and the bounds of civilised behaviour?
Where is the humanity in all of this?