strip search

Abolitionist Demand 30: Stop strip searching incarcerated people.

This is a part of No Pride in Prisons’ Abolitionist demands. These demands were originally published as a book. To see a pdf of the book, click here. To buy a copy, please email

Every single person incarcerated in the New Zealand prison system has been, by law, required to be sexually assaulted by officers on multiple occasions during their incarceration. This assault is in the form of a strip search. As stated in the Corrections Act 2004, a strip search in NZ can include opening the mouth of the prisoner, lifting and “rubbing” their hair, forcing the person to spread their legs and squat naked.[1] The officer also has full authority to “lift or raise,” or more accurately fondle, “fat, genitalia, and breasts.”[2]

Under the Act, every incarcerated person undergoes a strip search when they enter and leave the prison.[3] There are a wide set of other instances in which they can be searched too.[4] Assuming that very few of these people would have given consent to have their body invaded by someone in a position of authority were they not incarcerated, this is a clear instance of sexual assault.

Given the invasiveness of the searches, it is remarkable just how ineffective they are at fulfilling their stated purpose of finding and retrieving contraband. In the fiscal year 2014/15, prison officers conducted 115,166 strip searches and only found contraband in 472 instances.[5] That means that absolutely nothing was found in 99.59% of strip searches.

Following requests from No Pride in Prisons, the Department of Corrections was forced to clarify its policies around the strip searching of trans people. In one Official Information Act (OIA) request, the Department dodged the question as to who strip searches trans prisoners.[6]In a follow up, it appears that the Department scrambled to determine a policy.[7] It noted that according to section 94(1) of the Corrections Act, a “rub-down search or strip search may be carried out only by a person of the same sex as the person to be searched.”[8]

That means that trans women, who are women and consequently are ‘sexed’ as women regardless of genitalia,[9] are required to be searched by women officers. However, in the second OIA response, Corrections said that a “transgender prisoner placed in a men’s prison will be searched by male officers and a transgender prisoner placed in a women’s prison will be searched by female officers.”[10]

As the majority of trans women in New Zealand’s prisons are currently locked away in men’s prisons, most incarcerated trans women are required to be searched by male guards.[11] In practice, strip searches are even worse than they appear in policy. Incarcerated trans women whom No Pride in Prisons has talked to have told us what a strip search is like for them. They have told us about the humiliating experience of being held down as a male guard searches their bottom half, and a female guard their top half.

The stated purpose of sexually assaulting prisoners with strip searches is “preventing contraband from entering the prison,”[12] and ensuring the safety of incarcerated people and prison staff, with the implicit assumption that this justifies the use of strip searches. Given that only a small minority of contraband discovered in any kind of search are actually weapons, the majority of items smuggled into prison pose no threat to the safety of people in prisons.[13] Indeed, the Department of Corrections classifies “alcohol, communication devices, drugs, drug paraphernalia, tattoo equipment… tobacco and smoking equipment (e.g. lighters)[14] as contraband – none of these are means for harming anybody. They are means for coping with the life-crushing boredom of imprisonment.

In a harrowing blog post, Valerie Morse details how she was strip searched up to seven times per day while in a New Zealand prison.[15] She notes how strip searches, along with other everyday practices in prisons, led her to feel an “utter sense of powerlessness.” In other words, strip searches are routinely used by officers to humiliate and demonstrate power over incarcerated people. That is their actual purpose: humiliation and dehumanisation.

Routine sexual assault to prevent prisoners from smoking or receiving tattoos does nothing to ensure the wellbeing or safety of incarcerated people. Indeed, it profoundly harms them. If conditions in prisons are so hostile that incarcerated people resort to violence, the environment must be changed on a structural level. If, as detractors have argued, it would be impossible to run a prison without resorting to institutionalised sexual assaults in the form of strip searches, No Pride in Prisons asserts that this is not an argument in favour of strip searching but in favour of the abolition of prisons.

[1]Corrections Act 2004 s 90(2).

[2]Corrections Act 2004 s 90(2).

[3]Corrections Act 2004 s 98(7).

[4]Corrections Act 2004 s 98.

[5] Jeremy Lightfoot, “Response C76659,”, 22 April 2016.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jeremy Lightfoot, “Response C77626,”, 1 June 2016.

[8]Corrections Act 2004 s 94(1).

[9] To be ‘sexed’ means to be socially assigned a sex, usually at birth. The claim that a trans woman’s body is always a woman’s body recognises that regardless of the makeup of her genitalia, they are the genitals of a woman, and therefore women’s genitals. As sex is often, unscientifically, used as a placeholder for ‘genitals,’ it follows that a trans woman, having women’s genitals is also a woman or ‘female’ for the purposes of her sex. The reason this distinction is important is that often trans women are denied to be members of the female sex due to their genitalia.

[10] Jeremy Lightfoot, “Response C77626,”, 1 June 2016.

[11] Jeremy Lightfoot, “C73361 S Buchanan,”, 23 October 2015.

[12] Jeremy Lightfoot, “Response C76659,”, 22 April 2016.

[13] Terrence Buffery, “Response C77960,”, 15 June 2016.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Valerie Morse, “Daily Torment,” No Pride in Prisons, 19 March 2016.

My second Strip Search elimination comic! If you haven’t watched the episode go do that, apparently it is the most hilarious thing. I also found it quite amusing, even having lived it myself.

Do you want a print of this? OF COURSE YOU DO BUY IT HERE!

Story time: When I drew “cars” using my redraw ticket, I thought I’d dug my own grave. Tavis and I had just been talking about how shitty it is to draw cars, then voila, we are forced to draw CARS. At least it wasn’t “theatre”, or you guys would have seen a “Cats: The Musical” themed comic from me and that might have been even weirder.


Some of you have seen Strip Search, some of you haven’t. Either way, I drew this comic on the show and then I redrew it at home because people wanted to buy it and I can’t let them put my art on their wall if I didn’t at least TRY TO MAKE IT LOOK NICE.

What a difference references and peer critiques make! This is what the original looked like.

Here’s the link to preorder this 9"x14"comic as a print!

Click for larger version!

While we agree all the Strip Search competitors are magical and amazing people, I asked Alex and Uvnote who would be their favourites, added mine to the mix and drew ‘em up.

From left to right we have: Lexxy, Erika, Monica and Maki

If you don’t know what Strip Search is, it’s a reality show for cartoonists created by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade fame. You can watch it HERE! I highly recommend it, it’s pretty darn great!


It’s been one hell of a year, and like most people, I’m really looking forward to the fresh slate of a new one! Few things are set in stone so far, but here are some exciting things I have lined up for 2013:

Strip Search

As some of you know, webcomic monolith Penny Arcade had an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign for their site to be ad-free for a year. Among its many unusual stretch goals was Strip Search, a reality show-style competition for webcomic artists to take the place of PATV Season 4.

Most of the details are still under wraps, but I can finally say that I am on the show! Robert Khoo has offered a few morsels of information in an interview with Fleen, but all the good stuff has yet to be announced. I’ll share more information with you guys as it’s officially released.

In the meantime, check out the work of the incredibly rad and talented Nick Trujillo, Tavis Maiden, Mackenzie Schubert, Maki Naro, Abby Howard, Ty Halley, Katie Rice, Monica Ray, Erika Moen, Amy T. Falcone, and Alex Hobbs, with all of whom I had the distinct honor of competing.

Cloud Factory

On the subject of webcomics, I’m sure you’d all like to know what’s going on with mine! Things are still moving pretty slowly so far, since it’s hard for me to squeeze it in around my commissions and contract work, but I plan to take most of January off to give it a big push! Like Strip Search, it should debut sometime in the first quarter of the year.

For those of you who are new to my blog, I have an official Cloud Factory tumblr you can follow for updates, art, music, and info related to the comic!


So far, the only convention I’m slated to have a table at is GenCon, which runs from August 15-18 here in Indianapolis. I might make appearances at PAX East (March, Boston) and PAX Prime (Labor Day Weekend, Seattle), but I’m trying to cut down on my travel this year so I can focus on my work. I hope to be in a more comfortable position to expand my convention circuit in 2014.


This year has been an especially tumultuous one for me, between quitting grad school, attending new conventions, and filming a show. As such, I’m still working through a backlog of commissions. Officially, I’m not open for new work until I’ve caught up with everything I’ve promised, but my inbox is always open to discuss future projects. I’m hoping to start taking batch commissions again in February, so keep an eye out!

Thank you!!!

Finally, I’d like to give a big shoutout of PURE, RAW GRATITUDE to everyone who has followed and supported my work this year. I wouldn’t be where I am without you guys <3

I’ve been watching Penny Arcade’s Strip Search as of late, and I find it oddly addictive. By reality show standards it comes off awkward at times, but I find it even more relatable! So for their Elimination challenges, artists choose 2 ideas at random and have to concoct a comic within the 90 minute time limit. Some fans of the show have been doing the challenge on their own, and posting it on twitter! 

This week’s topics were Roller Skates and Dinosaurs. 

See other entries on twitter here!

Disclaimer: I actually do not know Dinosaur species. So all this is probably wrong. 


OH HELLO FANS! Are you upset at my loss? Do you think I deserved the WIN? Even if not, you can still throw money at me and I will be 100% ready to accept it. With my GLORIOUS KICKSTARTER

The Last Halloween is the tale of one young girl’s struggle to save humanity from extinction at the claws/tentacles/etc of monsters. So many monsters, endless, countless monsters. It’s gonna be super cool.

If anything, losing has just sparked a fiery spirit of vengeance in my heart, and I can’t wait to show the chumps of the world exactly what I have up my sleeves! But first I would enjoy having some money with which to buy supplies to make these dreams a reality.

Help me guys

Help me follow my deamz




You guys asked, and I delivered! You can now purchase your very own Dino Rollers logo tee, based on my winning elimination comic from the latest episode of Strip Search.

The tee, as well as prints of the comic itself, are available in my society6 shop, and it looks like you can get free worldwide shipping if you order today!

WARNING: Alexandra Douglass, LLC cannot be held responsible for injuries sustained while using their products. Wear at your own risk.