A formal complaint filed with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department in January reveals that women incarcerated at a San Francisco jail were illegally stripped search by male deputies, according to The Huffington Post.

San Francisco’s public defender Jeff Adachi filed a formal complaint after receiving reports that female inmates were forced to strip, squat and cough in front of deputies, a violation of California law.

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According to state law, strip searches of people who are incarcerated must take place in a private space without members of the opposite sex.

Vicki Hennessy, San Francisco sheriff, launched an investigation into the allegations.

Adachi’s office acquired stories from 16 women, who said they were victims of the humiliating searches at County Jail No. 2, the only jail that houses women in San Francisco.

At least 12 of the 16 women revealed that were searched in areas where male deputies were in sight.

“While strip searches are allowed in a jail or prison setting, they can’t be arbitrarily carried out or carried out in a way that is unreasonable, without any basis,” Adachi toldHuffPost. “Based on the reports that we were receiving, the grounds for the strip searches were questionable and the way they were being performed ― with male guards in eyeshot and other inappropriate conduct by the deputies ― raised some red flags for us.”

Many women used words such as “especially degrading,” “humiliating,” “violating” and “unusual.” to describe the inappropriate and disturbing incidents, the report said.

One woman said the she was asked to get naked, squat, cough and lift up her breasts in front of male guards and other inmates. She made eye contact with a male deputy and she informed a lawyer that he said he was single and found some of the inmates attractive.

Another female inmate said she was strip-searched next to a toilet that contained bodily fluids. She was concerned that jail cameras would film her body since she was near an open door.

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“Our concern is that the sheriff’s department does not appear to be following a consistent protocol in conducting these strip searches,” Adachi said, according to the Huffington Post. “Our clients felt like their privacy, although limited because they are in custody, was being violated.”