RLC in the Media: ‘She grabbed my bra’: NSW woman says being strip-searched at 15 had a traumatic effect

Two women who were strip-searched by police as teenagers speak out about their experiences.

Michael McGowan reports for the Guardian.

A woman who was subjected to a potentially illegal strip-search as a 15-year-old in which, she says, a female officer “jiggled” her breasts has described it as an “intimidating” and traumatic” experience.

Guardian Australia revealed on Wednesday that police in New South Wales have strip-searched 122 girls, including two 12-year-olds, in the past three years.

The shocking figures come as the state’s police watchdog investigates the potentially illegal strip-search of a 16-year-old at a music festival in 2018 and have led to calls form the Redfern Legal Centre – which first obtained the data – for a ban on strip-searching minors unless a court-order is obtained.

In 2011, Madz Piper, now 23, was taken to a Sydney police station after a minor incident. At the station, Piper was taken into an interview room where a female police officer instructed her to strip down to her bra and underpants.

Despite still being in her underwear, she was told to “squat and cough” by the officers, before she says the officer “grabbed” her bra and “jiggled it”.

The search Piper described was potentially illegal. In NSW, police must have a parent, guardian or support person present during the strip-search of a minor unless it’s necessary for the safety of the person, or to prevent evidence being destroyed.

They are also not permitted to conduct a search of a person’s breasts unless the officer suspects “on reasonable grounds that it is necessary to do for the purposes of the search” and cannot conduct “an examination of the body by touch”.

“It was really violating. It made me really uncomfortable. And, you know, I didn’t realise it wasn’t allowed, I didn’t know you could say no. I was 15, you just do what you’re told,” Piper told Guardian Australia.

Peta Malins, a lecturer in criminology and justice studies at the RMIT University in Victoria, said it was “horrifying” to think about the impact of the searches on children and young people.

“this has a really significant impact for anyone, but for the kids to be being searched like that there is a real risk of a longer-term trauma,” she said.

Malins, who this year published a study on the emotional impact of drug dog detections and strip-searches, said the risk of long-term impact both from trauma and a loss of trust in police were significant.

It’s a feeling 19-year-old Lucy Moore understands after being strip-searched by police at the Hidden music festival in Sydney in March.

“The way they treated me, I can’t look at them the same. You see them and you just feel like you know they’re going to do something to you. You think it’s going to happen again. Their presence just makes me feel so uneasy,” she said.

The use of strip-search powers in NSW has been placed under increased scrutiny since the Law Enforcement and Conduct Commission held public hearings for its investigation into the potentially illegal strip-search of a 16-year-olds at a 2018 music festival.

Read the full article here (The Guardian, 7 November 2019)