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What is a Body Cavity Search?

By Keith Koons
Updated May 16, 2024
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A body cavity search is a procedure in which a person would be asked to remove his clothing in order to be searched for illegal weapons or other types of contraband. During this search, the person will be inspected from head to toe, including inside any body areas and other places where something could be concealed. Under normal circumstances, a body cavity search would be conducted by a trained professional with experience in locating hidden packages of devices on humans, such as a police officer, a medically-licensed physician, or a customs official. There are also electronic devices that allow clothed individuals to undergo the same procedure in certain circumstances.

By far, the most common place that a body cavity search is conducted is within prisons and other types of detention facilities. Inmates are often able to hide objects in areas of their body that regular pat-downs would not detect, so as a precautionary measure this tactic is used for verification purposes. A body cavity search occurs whenever inmates are transported outside of the facility or when an officer has reason to suspect that contraband may be present, and it is usually conducted in a semi-private location to reduce the level of embarrassment involved.

As far as the specifics of the search, it is normally conducted under very structured guidelines. After every garment of clothing is removed, the suspect individual will be asked to turn and pose at different angles in order to give an unobstructed view of each part of his body. This may include lifting certain body parts, twisting in reasonable positions, or bending certain ways to enhance the searcher's view. Each orifice will be spread by the suspect under the inspector's orders, and whenever the results are inconclusive, the procedure will be repeated. The authority may also request the suspect to cough or perform other actions that would give a clearer indication of the presence of contraband, but the inspector is usually not allowed to touch the suspect during the search.

There are also many other locations in which a body cavity search may take place. Airports commonly perform this process when standard scans are questionable, and it is also frequently performed at border crossings and inside other secure environments. In some areas, an electronic body search is possible; these devices provide authorities with a composite image of the suspect that can compare his actual body shape with the way clothing appears. While this method is rarely conclusive, it is used to obtain probable cause to conduct a more thorough body cavity search.

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Discussion Comments
By lluviaporos — On Jan 04, 2014

@bythewell - An X-Ray might show up something like that, but generally those body scanners they have at many airports are next to useless because it's too easy to fool them. Unless they are willing to do a full cavity search on everyone, there isn't a foolproof way of making sure that people are safe.

But those scanners tend to make people feel like they have done enough, which is dangerous. I read an article the other day by a guy who reckoned he went through one of those scanners wearing shoes with rubber soles that should show up on those scanners in the same way as plastic explosives would. He was an airport security person himself, so he knew how they worked.

But he wasn't stopped and was allowed to get on the plane. I mean, with all the money and time spent on this kind of security, you'd think we'd at least be safer, but it seems like the opposite is true.

By bythewell — On Jan 03, 2014

@Fa5t3r - Often they will give people at airports a body scan in order to catch them bringing drugs or other contraband into the country. I saw a film once where a pregnant woman was acting as a drug mule and she got called aside to do that kind of scan. The only reason she got out of it was that they tested her and found that she was pregnant, which meant they couldn't do the scan.

By Fa5t3r — On Jan 02, 2014

I always assumed that a full body cavity search automatically included using rubber gloves to inspect internal cavities.

Although, now that I think about it, it seems more likely that people would swallow bags of drugs and them vomit them up rather than risk putting them in the other way where they are probably much more likely to rupture.

I guess this is probably how they sneak drugs and things into prisons, as they probably don't perform these kinds of searches on every visitor who every comes to see a relative.

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