The Redfern Legal Centre applied for data under freedom of information laws following a controversial and potentially illegal strip search that was performed on a 16 year old girl at the Splendour in the Grass festival in Byron Bay last year.
That was the subject of a four-day inquiry by the NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC).
She was one of seven children strip-searched at that event without a parent or guardian present which breaches police search powers.
“At that point I realised I was going to have to get naked in front of this police officer,” the girl said in a statement read out by counsel. I could not believe this was happening to me; I could not stop crying; I was completely humiliated. A strip-search is by necessity a grave intrusion of a citizen’s privacy and dignity.”
During that inquiry, a senior constable made the shocking admission that “all 19 strip searches he performed at the festival may have been illegal“.
“Girls as young as 12 and 13, some just finishing primary school, are being taken by police to a strange place and ordered by someone with a huge amount of power to take off their clothes."
Important story by @mmcgowan on NSW police stripsearching kids https://t.co/Z3Ccw2RwUm
— heldavidson (@heldavidson) November 5, 2019
Since 2016, 3,919 women have been strip-searched by police in NSW. Almost half of these were performed on women under 25.
Shockingly two 12-year-olds and eight 13-year-olds were strip searched in that time.
Last week LECC, which functions as the police watchdog, confirmed it had investigated six separate allegations of misuse of strip-search powers by police in 2018.
Samantha Lee, the head of police accountability at the Redfern Legal Centre, told The Guardian, young children being subject to this needs to be addressed urgently.
“Young children are particularly vulnerable and at risk of harm from being strip-searched,” she said. “Girls as young as 12 and 13, some just finishing primary school, are being taken by police to a strange place and ordered by someone with a huge amount of power to take off their clothes. There is no doubt these young women would have been scared, some terrified and most having no idea of their legal rights.”
NB: there's no clear definition of strip search in state laws, so police are left to interpret. One way it's been interpreted is to require people to squat during searches- to inspect their genitals. This isn't in the police force handbook, may be unlawful. Another way is below. https://t.co/QEplrbiKwM
— Julia Baird (@bairdjulia) November 5, 2019
Whether police can force people to squat during a strip-search, something that is reportedly a common practice, is currently being reviewed.
A police manual recently published allows police officers to instruct people to squat, lift their testicles or breasts, or part their buttock cheeks.
That this has – or is – potentially happening to girls under the age of 18 without a parent or guardian present is truly shocking.