RLC in the Media: 'I felt completely helpless': Woman's strip search revives trauma of sexual assault

A Sydney woman says a police strip search at a Homebush music festival in 2018 forced her to relive a sexual assault that occurred just over a year earlier.

Angus Thompson and Nigel Gladstone report for Sydney Morning Herald

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The woman, 20, has spoken of her ordeal as prominent legal figures raise fears that the increasing use of strip searches could trigger trauma in victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, while NSW Police data reveals children as young as 10 are being subjected to the "harmful" practice. The woman, 20, was strip searched by police just over a year after she was sexually assaulted.

The woman, 20, was strip searched by police just over a year after she was sexually assaulted.

"I had to be stripped naked and I felt completely helpless, and I was scared," said the woman, whose ticket to the Midnight Mafia event on May 5 last year was confiscated by police despite nothing illegal being found.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said the experience of being "cornered" in a booth with two police officers "was a refresher" of her sexual assault, which she said was perpetrated by two people.

"It was horrible, that's how they made me feel. All I wanted was to go to the music festival," she said.

The event organisers refunded the price of the woman's ticket, but she said that couldn't "compensate for the psychological trauma that was caused".

A sexual assault victims' counselling service referred the woman to the Redfern Legal Centre, which has spearheaded an open letter, backed by senior figures such as former director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, QC, and pioneering lawyer Elizabeth Evatt, calling for legislative change to strip-search powers.

It comes as data obtained by the legal centre under freedom of information laws showed 296 minors were the target of field strip searches over a two-year period between the financial years 2016-17 and 2017-18. One of those was aged 10. Young adults aged between 18 and 25 were subjected to 4011 strip searches in the same period, 41 per cent of the total 9891 searches across NSW.

The number of NSW Police searches has increased by almost 50 per cent in the four years from financial year 2014-15 to 2017-18.

Solicitor Samantha Lee, head of police accountability at the legal centre, said there was an obvious power imbalance where young people with limited knowledge of the law were being made to stand naked in front of two police officers.

"This is an age group where they’re young, their bodies are still developing and they’re still discovering their identity in life, and to be hit by police officers asking them to take off their clothes makes a negative, lasting impression on young people. It's a harmful practice," Ms Lee said.

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission is investigating allegations of police misconduct regarding strip searches and has already carried out several private hearings.

Read the full article: 'I felt completely helpless': Woman's strip search revives trauma of sexual assault (Sydney Morning Herald, 4 June 2019)