On Monday, October 2, 21-year-old student Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos was sentenced to a year in prison by the United Arab Emirates after “assaulting and insulting” a customs officer in Dubai. The New York City native was trapped in the city for three months after a travel ban was issued against her.
The entire scenario played out at the airport after she was asked to remove a waist training brace she wore for medical reasons. Elizabeth Polanco and her friend were homebound from Istanbul on July 14. Their initial itinerary included Paris as their pitstop, but they decided to change it to Dubai to visit the city during their 10-hour layover.
“We thought it would be a more modern and futuristic city, but we were completely wrong,” Polanco said in a statement to Detained in Dubai.
While passing through the Dubai security, airport staff requested the Lehman College student to remove her waist training brace, which she was required to wear after a recent surgery. Things quickly escalated from there.
A waist training brace is used to make one’s waist look smaller. They can also be used for medical purposes, including building better posture and postpartum support, among other reasons.
The waist training braces are made with a thick, sturdy fabric. Many often come with metal boning, which supports users around the torso region. This also ensures that the fabric from the waist trainer does not bunch up and make the product useless. They are always wrapped around the waist using a lacing system, clasps, or sometimes sticky fasteners.
What happened to Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos in Dubai?
Once Elizabeth Polanco was asked to remove her waist training brace, she was taken to a private booth with female staff members.
Her mother told Detained in Dubai that the female airport staff were rough towards her daughter, who was still healing from her surgery scars. She also claimed that they laughed and ridiculed her daughter when she asked them for help to put on the waist trainer again. It was also alleged that the customs officers refused to help Polanco, who was left half-naked and panic-stricken.
In a statement, Elizabeth Polanco said that the waist trainer had “many, many pins, and you need to stretch the edges and clip small skinny pins together close to the body.”
Eventually, a male officer allowed her friend to help her get dressed. As Elizabeth Polanco was trying to call out to her friend, she leaned past a female security guard who was blocking her way.
“I gently touched her arm to guide her out of the way then desperately started crying to my friend for help,” Polanco claimed.
Officials then detained her for “touching,” “assaulting,” and “insulting” a female customs officer. She was reportedly detained in a room for hours despite vehemently denying the accusations and pleading with them.
Elizabeth Polanco was allegedly forced to sign paperwork that was in Arabic before being let go. However, she later learned that a travel ban was imposed on her.
During the college student’s legal battle, she was given one year in prison. Radha Stirling, the CEO of Detained in Dubai, commented on the case and revealed that people could be detained in the city on bogus and minor charges.
“She is under the most incredible stress, which is impacting her physical and mental health, disrupting her entire life and scarring her long term. This is simply no way to treat visitors. It’s outrageous,” Stirling said.
The U.S. State Department had not commented on the matter at the time of writing this article. However, they told Newsweek that they were “aware of the detention of a US citizen in Dubai.”