RLC in the Media: Strip search locations may be putting victims of sexual assault at risk

Police powers solicitor Sam Lee speaks to ABC PM about how strip searches may be putting vulnerable people, including children and sexual assault victims at risk.

Victoria Pengilley reports for ABC PM. 

Despite laws which say police strip searches may only be conducted when "necessary" and "urgent," strip searches have almost doubled in New South Wales in the past four years. 

Under freedom of information laws, Redfern Legal Centre has obtained new police data about strip searches conducted across NSW. The information shows that the majority of police strip searches are being conducted on young people.

"At music festivals, we're finding that the age group of 19 to 25 are particularly targeted," Samantha Lee told ABC PM.

"What these laws do is they traumatise young people. A young person whose body is still developing who may have experienced sexual assault or exposed to domestic violence, and then they've been asked to take off all their clothing."

The information obtained by Redfern Legal Centre includes photos of a small, metal ticket booth enclosure at Sydney Showground where some searches of music festival patrons have been conducted.

"This particular place where they're being strip searched looks ghastly and it's grotty and provides very little dignity," Ms Lee said.

Amelia (not her real name) was taken aside at a music festival and forced to strip naked in front of a police officer. She shared her experience with ABC PM.

"I was strip-searched in a booth this year. The female officer took me over to the metal round hut, conducted a strip search, even made me squat," Amelia said.

"I felt like I was going into jail. The whole strip search made me a bit scared. It was a horrible experience when you just want to have some fun with your friends."

MP David Shoebridge is calling for a change to official protocols, which would require police to determine if someone had experienced sexual assault before conducting a strip search.

He says there are very few limitations on strip searches and the law. "The current code of practice doesn't consider the traumatising effect ...  on children ... on young people, including those who may have a history of sexual assault or sexual abuse. It's completely silent on some of these key concerns," Mr Shoebridge said.

Listen to the full report here (Victoria Pengilley, ABC PM, 18 June 2019)