The Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) has been forced to apologize following an incident in which an 8-year-old girl was reportedly strip-searched by staff at a facility in Dillwyn, having being made to believe it was the only way she would be able to see her father.
The incident unfolded on November 24 during what should have been a routine visit, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
The 8-year-old girl, whose identity has not been revealed due to her age and the nature of the incident, had reportedly been visiting the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn with her father’s girlfriend, Diamond Peerman.
According to their account, they had been waiting in line with other visitors when a DOC dog circled them and focused on Peerman, leading staff to demand that she be strip-searched.
Peerman said she asked if that meant the 8-year-old needed to be searched too, to which staff initially responded “no,” before reversing the decision.
Believing that it was the only way for the child to be able to see her father, Peerman signed a consent form allowing the child to be searched, despite telling staff that she was not the 8-year-old’s legal guardian.
As The Virginian-Pilot reported, such an allowance would violate the corrections department’s policies, which demand that searches can only be conducted on a minor with the consent of a parent or legal guardian.
According to the report, the 8-year-old girl had been crying before she was taken to a bathroom by two female correction officers and forcibly strip-searched, including being asked to bend over and cough.
In a statement sent to the news outlet, DOC Director of Communications Lisa Kinney issued an apology to the family, calling the incident “deeply troubling.”
“It is deeply troubling and represents a breach in our protocol,” Kinney acknowledged.
“We sincerely apologize to this child and her family and will be taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible,” she said.
“Our procedure states that only a parent or legal guardian can approve the strip search of a minor; in this case the adult visitor who signed the consent for the minor to be strip searched wasn’t the minor’s parent or legal guardian,” Kinney said.
“The staff member who authorized the search of the minor following a K-9 alert didn’t have the authority to do so. We take this matter very seriously and as mentioned above will be taking immediate disciplinary action against the person responsible,” the spokesperson said.
According to The Virginian-Pilot newspaper, the young girl, who suffers from bipolar disorder, depression and ADHD, has been left traumatized by the event and has had to miss school over it.
While strip searches of minors are allowed under the Virginia DOC’s policies, staff are required to receive the consent of a parent or guardian.
It is unclear whether the incident will lead to any changes to the policy or what disciplinary action has been taken against the staff member(s) involved in the incident.
Newsweek has contacted Kinney and a social media account appearing to belong to Peerman for comment.