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December 16, 2021 Practice Points

Five Tips to Prevent Strip Searches of Children and Youth

Some ideas to assist you in utilizing the ABA’s new 2020 resolution to lessen the number of children and youth who will be subjected to this demeaning and dehumanizing practice.

By Cathy Krebs

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

Strip searches cause trauma that can have life-long consequences for children and youth, but despite that harm children and youth can currently be strip searched in schools, detention facilities, and even as part of child protective services investigations. For that reason, in 2020 the American Bar Association (ABA) adopted a resolution that urges governments to enact policies to limit strip searches of children and youth to only those situations where certain enumerated requirements are met. Here are tips to assist you in utilizing this ABA policy so that fewer children and youth will be subjected to this demeaning and dehumanizing practice.

  1. Learn and educate others about the profoundly negative and long-term consequences of strip searches on children and youth. Scientific and psychological research indicates that strip searches impact children and youth more severely than adults. For young people who have been victims of abuse, strip-searches can re-traumatize them. Learn more here. Many people are not aware of how traumatizing strip searches can be for children and youth and the number of settings in which they can occur. You can educate people in your state about this issue and the work needed to protect children and youth in your state from unnecessary and traumatizing strip searches.
  2. Identify the laws and policies that allow strip searches of children and youth in your jurisdiction. The Children’s Rights Litigation Committee is assembling state-specific toolkits which can assist in that work. Click here to see if your state has been added to the toolkit.
  3. While many of us think of strip searches as happening primarily to discover contraband on incarcerated individuals, they are actually common in other settings as well. As you identify the settings in which your state may allow strip searches of children and youth, keep in mind that they might occur in juvenile detention facilities, schools, residential and group homes (including residential facilities that are part of the Troubled Teen Industry which refers to a network of private residential facilities, schools, and programs that operate largely without government oversight or regulation for children between the ages of between the ages of 5–18), immigration facilities, prior to visits to incarcerated family members, and by child protective services workers as part of child welfare investigations.
  4. Review the model language that is part of the ABA Resolution Prohibiting Strip Searches of Children and Youth, Except in Exceptional Circumstances that can be used to reform state statutes, regulations, and contract provisions.
  5. Advocate for changes to your state’s laws to limit strip searches, as well as with your state agencies to encourage them to enact regulations to limit strip searches and include limiting language in contracts with private services providers.

To learn more and for additional resources, visit the Children’s Rights Litigation Committee’s toolkit Preventing Strip Searches of Children and Youth.

Cathy Krebs is the director of the Children's Rights Litigation Committee.

Copyright © 2021, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).