RLC in the Media: Revealed: NSW police strip-searched more than 100 girls, including 12-year-olds

In the past three years, 122 girls have been forced to undergo the controversial practice.

Michael McGowan reports for The Guardian

The New South Wales police performed strip searches on more than 100 girls in the last three years, including two 12-year-olds.

Following the NSW police watchdog’s investigation into the allegedly illegal strip-search of a 16-year-old girl at a music festival last year, data obtained under freedom of information laws shows she was just one of 122 girls under the age of 18 who have been forced to undergo the controversial practice by police since 2016.

The revelations come as the NSW police watchdog revealed last week that it investigated six separate allegations of misuse of strip-search powers by police last year, and is likely to place the practice under increased scrutiny.

The data, obtained by the Redfern Legal Centre, reveals that since 2016 there have been 3,919 strip-searches by police on women in NSW. Young women aged 25 and under accounted for almost half the searched.

Most shockingly, the data reveals that two 12-year-olds and eight 13-year-olds have been strip-searched by police since 2016.

“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 to take off their clothes,” Samantha Lee, the head of police accountability at the Redfern Legal Centre said.

“There is no doubt these young women would have been scared, some terrified and most having no idea of their legal rights.”

Last month, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) held public hearing as part of its investigation into the allegedly illegal search of a 16-year-old girl at the 2018 Splendour in the Grass festival. She was one of seven children strip-searched at the event.

“We know from the recent LECC hearings that young women are being asked to squat, and in the LECC case, an officer got on the ground and looked underneath the young woman,” Lee told Guardian Australia.

“How many other young women have been subjected to such concerning police practice?”

The LECC inquiry last month heard that some officers did not know their obligation in relation to minors and, in the case of the 16-year-old, there was no justification for initiating the search.

“Young children are particularly vulnerable and at risk of harm from being strip-searched,” said Ms Lee.

The data obtained by RLC shows that of the almost 4,000 strip searches conducted on women since 2016, 66% found nothing. In 28% of these searches, a drug-dog detection was given as the reason for the search.

There has been growing concern about the impact and effectiveness of strip searches in NSW, particularly in the context of music festivals.

On Friday the NSW Coroner will release the long-awaited findings of an inquest into six-drug related deaths. Drat recommendations from the inquiry leaked last month included a call for police to limit the use of strip-searches and scrap the use of drug detection dogs at festivals.

Read the full article here (The Guardian, 6 November 2019)