Over 50 legal orgs sign open letter in face of rising police strip searches
Representatives from over 50 legal organisations across NSW, including prominent members of the legal profession, have signed an open letter to the state’s Police Minister outlining the harmful impacts of strip searches.
New figures obtained by Redfern Legal Centre (via access to information laws) have revealed that, between the financial years 2016-17 and 2017-18, 296 children were strip searched.
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4,011 young people aged 18 to 25 were strip searched, accounting for 41 per cent of searches conducted across the state. The youngest person strip searched was aged 10, and the oldest aged 82 years.
The figures also showed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accounted for 10 per cent of people who were strip searched, while representing less than three per cent of the total NSW population.
Redfern Legal Centre, who instigated the open letter, said this new data must be acted upon immediately.
“This is the only law in Australia that allows a police officer to order a child as young as ten to take off all their clothes and stand naked while their body is inspected. The law flies in the face of child protection and harm minimisation principles. It is an antiquated, harmful and abusive practice that needs to stop,” said RLC head of police accountability Samantha Lee.
“Being subjected to a strip search is a highly traumatic experience. It is a harmful memory trigger for children, young people and adults who have been subjected to sexual assault, sexual abuse, or other forms of violence. The fact that this practice is being carried out with such frequency is both highly disturbing and completely unnecessary.”
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights president Kerry Weste added: “Strip-searches are highly invasive and can be humiliating, degrading and a significant breach of human rights to liberty, privacy and dignity.”
Over the same two-year period, the police station with the highest number of recorded strip searches was Auburn (816), followed closely by Sydney City PAC (815), Surry Hills PS (784), Eastern Beaches (251), Lake Illawarra (246), Nowra (256), Taree (304), Wollongong (219).
RLC also obtained a suburb by suburb breakdown of strip searches, with the majority of searches were conducted at Sydney Olympic Park, Sydney and Moore Park, while in regional areas, Taree and Nowra stood out as strip search hot spots.
The ‘objects found’ during a strip search for the period (2016-17 to 2017-18) included, among other things: bicycle, stamp/coin collection, office equipment, sport equipment, clothing, drugs, tobacco, prohibited article, gardening equipment, firearm, knife, liquor and book.
The open letter, addressed to David Elliot MP, outlined the concerns about the rise in the use and application of strip searches, including that a strip search may be requested by a junior officer without requiring any authorisation from a more senior officer, and that the current law does not allow for transgender, intersex and gender diverse peoples to choose the preferred gender of the officer/s to be present during a strip search.
The over 50 legal organisations that signed the open letter included: Aboriginal Legal Service, National Justice Project, University of NSW, Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Community Legal Centres NSW, Australian Lawyers Alliance, Women’s Legal Service NSW, Human Rights Law Centre and Forbes Chambers.