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What is a Strip Search?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A strip search is a search conducted on a person who has been asked to fully or partially undress to facilitate ease of identifying contraband material. This approach to personal searches is controversial in many regions of the world as it is deemed invasive. Law enforcement officers usually need to present compelling reasons for conducting a strip search as opposed to other types of searches, and the searcher generally needs to be of the same gender as the target to allay concerns about propriety.

In partial strip searches, people may be asked to remove bulky outer garments to make contraband worn on the body easier to see. Jackets, shoes, and belts can all be removed and people may be asked to remove a shirt or pants if there are additional concerns. These items may be searched by hand and the person can be subjected to a patdown, where a security officer carefully feels the body to check for abnormal objects. This search can usually be conducted in a public area, although people may be pulled aside to allow other people to pass.

Full strip searches, conducted in private, require people to undress to their underwear, and in some cases they may be asked to remove their underwear as well. In this visual strip search, the officer conducting the search can clearly see whether the person is wearing contraband on the body. For some settings, like prisons, the officer may also conduct a cavity search, checking the subject's mouth as well as other cavities. It is possible to secret various objects in a body cavity to pass through security checks, including medications, as well as some types of weapons.

The goal of a strip search is to enhance security within a controlled environment like a jail or airport. Depending on policies, everyone may be subject to search, or security officers may pick people at random for this more invasive search, while asking everyone to pass through metal detectors. Stationing officers of both genders in mixed gender spaces is required so someone will be available to conduct a search.

People have successfully sued in some regions of the world on the grounds that strip searches were unnecessary or invasive. In some cases involving searchers of a different gender, public exposure, or searches based on discriminatory profiling, people have successfully won these suits and received settlements to compensate them. People who are not sure about the legality of a strip search can ask for more information, including the names and badge numbers of the people involved in the decision to search, and details of the search itself.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By jonrss — On May 06, 2012

A friend of mine described the prison cavity search that he had to go through when he was sent away for stealing cars. I will spare you the details but suffice it to say that the search is long and painful.

By truman12 — On May 05, 2012

Under what circumstances can you be stripped searched and what bodies have the authority to carry out strip searches? Can you be stripped searched at the airport or by a border official?

I find the whole practice to be very distasteful and objectionable. I understand the role of the police and I respect the work that they do but a strip search seems like such an intimate invasion of privacy that I would find it difficult to sanction it in any except the most extreme circumstances.

By whiteplane — On May 04, 2012

I was strip searched once and it was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. I had been falsely accused and I knew that I had nothing to hide. That made the experience even worse, knowing that I would have to go through the whole thing only for them to find nothing.

You cannot imagine how invasive and violating it feels to have a stranger stare at your naked body in fluorescent light.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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