A woman in the US says she was forced by airport security guards to remove her nipple rings with a pair of pliers before she could board a flight.
Mandi Hamlin, 37, is demanding a civil rights investigation, as well as an apology from federal security agents after being forced to remove a nipple ring before boarding a flight from Lubbock to Dallas in Texas.
During a press conference today, Ms Hamlin said she was scanned by a female Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent using a handheld detector that beeped when it passed in front of her chest.
Ms Hamlin told the agent she had nipple piercings. The female agent then called over her male colleagues, one of whom said she would have to remove the body piercings.
Ms Hamlin said she asked if she could display her pierced breasts in private to the female agent but several other male officers told her she could not board her flight until the jewellery was removed.
She was taken behind a curtain and managed to remove one bar-shaped nipple piercing but had trouble with the second, a ring.
“Still crying, she informed the TSA officer that she could not remove it without the help of pliers, and the officer gave a pair to her,” Ms Hamlin's lawyer, Gloria Allred, told the director of the TSA's Office of Civil Rights and Liberties.
Ms Allred, who also represents Paul McCartney's ex-wife Heather Mills, used a nipple ring on a mannequin at the press conference to show what happened.
“After nipple rings are inserted, the skin can often heal around the piercing, and the rings can be extremely difficult and painful to remove,” said Ms Allred.
Ms Hamlin said she heard the male security agents snickering as she took out the ring, before being scanned again and eventually allowed on the plane.
Ms Allred said Ms Hamlin had filed a complaint to the TSA's customer service manager at Lubbock airport, who said the screening was handled properly.
What the woman had in her nipples
The lawyer said Ms Hamlin was “publicly humiliated and has undergone an enormous amount of physical pain to have the nipple rings reinserted' because of scar tissue”.
“The conduct of TSA was cruel and unnecessary,” said Ms Allred. “The last time that I checked a nipple was not a dangerous weapon.”
The TSA, a unit of the Department of Homeland Security that was set up after the September 11 attacks in 2001, said it was investigating the incident but agents were trained to search people with piercings in "sensitive areas" with dignity and respect.
"TSA is well aware of terrorists' interest in hiding dangerous items in sensitive areas of the body, therefore we have a duty to the American public to resolve any alarm we discover," the agency said in a statement.
The TSA said incidents of female terrorists hiding explosives in "sensitive areas" were on the rise and provided a picture of a "bra bomb" that was used in training its agents.
Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokesman Dwayne Baird said he had not heard of the nipple ring incident.
Mr Baird said the TSA had no specific policy about body jewellery but if it was big enough to sound an alarm, the person wearing it would not be allowed to pass security until the alarm was investigated.
"I'd be really curious to know what this woman had in her nipples," Mr Baird said on CBS.
"Sometimes they have a chain between their nipples, or a chain between their nipples and their belly button. It would have to be made of heavy metal to be detected."
“I wouldn't wish this experience upon anyone,” said Ms Hamlin.
“My experience with TSA was a nightmare I had to endure. No one deserves to be treated this way.”
Ms Allred said the incident followed a similar claim by reality TV star Nicole Richie, who said she had her breasts inspected by security at an airport because of her nipple rings.