Searching of Transgender, Transsexual and Transvestite persons
Definitions: Within the term transgender there are many different definitions. For
clarity the definitions are as follows:
Transgender person: Transgender is an umbrella term for the wider community of
people who have cross gender identification. Individuals may identify as transgender
because they cross-dress some of the time, because they cross-gender live much of
the time, because they undergo gender reassignment, or just because their gender
identity or gender role is not conventional.
Transsexual: Transsexual people have a gender identity, their sense of their own
gender differs from their anatomical sex. This clash of sex and gender is medically
termed gender dysphoria and it will cause a person so much emotional distress that
they may undergo gender reassignment – a process which is undertaken under
medical supervision for the purpose of bringing the physical appearance more in line
with the gender identity. This may include counselling, hormone treatment or
Intersex: When the physical attributes of chromosomes, gonads (testicles or ovaries)
and genitals (penis or vagina) do not coincide in the manner we expect, then the
individual has an intersex condition. There are many intersex conditions now
recognised by medicine and it is estimated that one in 200 children is born with
some sort of intersex condition.
Hermaphrodite: Hermaphroditism is a very rare form of intersexuality in which the
individual will have both sets of genital organs, a penis and a vagina. The law
regards hermaphrodites as of whichever sex they choose for themselves, but it does
insist that once that sex is chosen, it remains the same for life. Intersexuality and
hermaphroditism are very different matter from transexualism. On occasions they
overlap, in that some people with an intersex condition may undergo the equivalent
treatment as used in gender reassignment, and some trans people are discovered to
have an intersex condition.
Transvestism: Transvestism is a compulsion, or wish, to dress in the clothes of the
opposite sex. Generally, transvestites do not wish to alter their body and do not
experience gender dysphoria. Transvestism is mostly, but not exclusively, practised
Principles - These principles are very broad and cannot cater for every possible
circumstance. The actions of officers must be shown to be fair and respecting of the
The legal sex of a person is that which was registered at the time of the birth. This
remains so unless the person has been granted a Gender Recognition Certificate
(GRC) under the provisions of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, recognising their
acquired gender as their gender for all purposes in law. Those whose birth was
registered in the UK are entitled to a new birth certificate reflecting their ‘new’
gender and which does not disclose the change of gender. Further, section 22 of the
Act establishes a right to privacy for the transsexual person and renders it a criminal
offence to disclose the gender history of the holder of the GRC, when that
information was acquired in an official capacity. Official capacity includes a person’s
functions as a police officer.
It must be remembered that gender reassignment is a long process. Changes to the
body, as a result of hormone treatment and surgical interventions may take place
over many years. Thus a transsexual person may/will initially appear to have no
physical attributes of the opposite sex, then have some secondary sexual
characteristics such as breast or beard growth, then later some surgery to change
parts of the body long before genital reconstruction is undertaken.
The following guidance should be followed when searching a person who may
have gone/or is undergoing gender transition:
If there is no doubt as to the gender of a person or there is no reason
to suspect the person is not the gender that they appear, they should
be dealt with as that gender.
However, if there is uncertainty as to a person’s gender, they should
be asked what gender they consider themselves to be and what
gender they would prefer to be treated as.
If the person is unwilling to make such an election, the officer should
try to determine the predominant lifestyle of the person, for example
if they appear to live predominantly as a woman, they should be
treated as such.
As a guiding principal, officers should always address people according to the gender
role in which they present themselves. Despite possible challenges to their own
beliefs and attitudes, officers should consistently maintain a professional manner in
their dealing with trans people and accord them the highest level of dignity.
This simple courtesy consistently fosters cooperation and trust. Once a decision has
been made about which gender a transvestite, or transgender person is to be treated
as, and before an officer searches that person, the searching officer should be
advised of the gender. This is important so as to maintain the dignity of the person
being searched as well as the searching officers. There is a possibility that a technical
breach of the codes may take place at Code C of the Police and Criminal Evidence
Act 1984, Annex A.11. (a) Where an officer present is the opposite sex to the person
being searched (i.e. the legal sex of the individual) and yet is the preferred sex by
the subject. However, if this action most appropriately takes into account the
person's wishes and maintains their dignity, it is believed that such a breach of the
codes can be shown to be justified and most unlikely to result in any subsequent
exclusion of evidence under section 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.
Any such action must be fully detailed in the custody record and the consent of the
person to be searched recorded as to the preferred sex of the searching officer.