RLC in the Media: Strip-search trauma similar to that of sexual assaults, NSW music festival inquest told

The trauma experienced in police strip searches is akin to that suffered during sexual assaults, the New South Wales music festivals inquest has heard.

AAP reports for The Guardian

A harm reduction campaigner and a criminologist told the inquest on Friday that the experience of being ordered to undress in front of police and accused of concealing drugs could cause long-lasting mental effects.

The issue of strip searches at music festivals has risen a number of times during the inquest, which is examining the deaths of six young people from MDMA toxicity at NSW music festivals between December 2017 and January 2019.

Counsel assisting the coroner Peggy Dwyer told the court on Thursday that the inquest would seek access to NSW police strip search protocols, saying the circumstances under which they are permitted should be understood "by the general public at large."

The results of a Freedom of Information request released on Friday by the Redfern Legal Centre suggest, however, that these protocols may not exist.

In December RLC requested a copy of standard operating procedures related to strip searches in NSW, but only received copies of extracts from the publicly available police code of practice and police force handbook.

Under NSW law police can carry out a strip search if an officer suspects on reasonable grounds that the search is necessary, and that the seriousness and urgency of the circumstances make it necessary.

However critics of the practice have raised concerns over the lack of detail concerning how police make this decision.

If the protocols exist they should be "immediately put on the public record", said head of Redfern Legal Centre's policy accountability section Samantha Lee.

"As well as robust laws to protect the public, rigorous and clear guidance should be available to all police undertaking this invasive and humiliating process to ensure that a strip search is only used in the most exceptional circumstances."

Will Tregoning, founder of harm reduction organisation Uharm, told the inquest that he had spoken to people who had likened their strip-search experiences to sexual assault and raised concern about the climate of fear the practice was creating amongst young people.

Read the full article here (The Guardian, 19 July 2019)