A teenage girl is suing Carnival Cruise Lines in Miami's federal court, accusing employees of having conducted an aggressive strip and cavity search when she was an underaged passenger on board a cruise last year.
"J.G.", then 17, says security staff forced her to strip, urinate, remove a tampon, and have her genitals examined last April while under suspicion of marijuana possession.
The incident occurred after the Carnival Sensation out of Cape Canaveral made a stop in the Bahamas on April 27. When J.G., her mother, and a 15-year-old friend returned to the boat, a security employee sharing their elevator claimed to have found a small baggie filled with "green leaves" in the group's wake.
Mayank Thapa and two other Carnival employees approached J.G. in her cabin and began interrogating her. The suit states that J.G. was not informed of her rights, nor told that her mother could be present. [Read the court complaint at Courthouse News, via Miami New Times.]
With an employee blocking the door, the girls said they feared for their safety. Thapa and the agents reportedly threatened J.G. repeatedly, saying if she confessed, her interrogation would stop and she could continue her cruise.
J.G. then admitted the bag was hers. But even after confessing, she says, the agents continued demanding to know "where the rest of it was," searching her cabin and purse.
The guards then told J.G., to remove her underwear and lift her dress, forcing her into the restroom and watching while she urinated. She was then told to remove a tampon and her "genital cavity was inspected visually" by a female Carnival employee, though the two male employees were present to watch.
With nothing found in or on her person, J.G. was then turned over to the Bahamian police, who placed her in an adult holding cell until the next day. There, J.G. alleges, she was assaulted.
Seeking unspecified damages over $75,000, the lawsuit filed in March alleges counts of negligence, fraud and misrepresentation, assault, sexual harassment, battery, emotional distress, breach of contract, and punitive damages.
Whether by land or sea, strip searches have long been controversial. In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that school officials violated the privacy rights of 13-year-old girl strip-searched on suspicion of possessing Advil. The court's decision implied that if the girl had been suspected of having illegal drugs, the strip search might have been justified.
On Monday, U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled that individuals may be strip-searched as part of any arrest, "even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband."
Justice Stephen G. Breyer, one of the court's 4 dissenters, said strip-searches were “a serious affront to human dignity and to individual privacy” and "should be used only when there was good reason to do so."
UPDATE: Carnival Corporation PR Manager Vance Gulliksen told HuffPost Miami in an emailed statement that the teen's allegation are "patently false," "obviously" made in retaliation for Carnival having removed the girl and her mother from the cruise before the voyage in Nassau was over. Guilliksen said Carnival does not normally comment on pending litigation, but felt "compelled to do so given the far-fetched claims."