Three Investigations Into Unlawful Strip-Searching Of Minors Were Quietly Published Last Week

Last week, the NSW police watchdog released its findings from investigations into three different strip search incidents against minors, including two at music festivals.

Police acted unlawfully in every single instance, the commission found. The teens, some of whom were as young as 15, said they were humiliated, scared, and exposed. But there won’t be any consequences

“Police lacked the appropriate understanding of the legal requirements regarding the conduct of strip searches and had not received adequate training,” the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) said in a statement.

One 16-year-old girl, who was strip searched by police at a Byron Bay music festival in 2018, told the commission she felt “completely humiliated” and “could not stop crying”.

She was made to squat uncomfortably in a tent which wasn’t even closed properly, and made to undress more than necessary, the commission found.

She has since rejected NSW Police’s apology, according to a letter from her lawyer obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald.

Three boys were also found to have been unlawfully searched at the Lost City under-18s music festival in last year.

One of the boys was told to “pull down your pants, hold your dick and lift your balls up and show me your gooch,” the commission heard.

Outside of music festivals, the commission also heard the case of a 16-year-old Aboriginal boy in a rural town who was unlawfully strip-searched after being suspected of carrying marijuana.

The commission released disturbing CCTV footage showing an officer forcefully pulling the boy’s shorts off in the garage of a police station, while two other officers watched on. The commission described the incident as “a humiliating abuse of power.”

The boy told the officer “you can’t look down my pants […] you can’t put your hands down my bum […] you can search me down at the station when my parents are there.”

The officer simply replied: “Well, you actually don’t know the rules, we can search you.”

In NSW, police can only conduct on-the-spot strip-searches if the situation is urgent. For minors, a parent or guardian must also be present.

Despite the findings, the commission did not recommend any disciplinary action against the officers involved, which has drawn criticism from many groups.

“The LECC report and deeply disturbing video footage released today highlights what we’ve known for a long time – strip searches are a deeply intrusive, disempowering and degrading process,” Sarah Crellin, principal solicitor at the Aboriginal Legal Service, said in a statement.

“Whilst the LECC reports make findings of both inappropriate and serious misconduct by police, we are deeply disappointed that there have been no recommendations for disciplinary action.

“The excessive use of strip-searching is causing significant emotional and psychological harm in Aboriginal communities, particularly for children and young people. There must be accountability for mistreatment.”

Instead of calling for strip-searches, particularly against minors, to be scrapped altogether, the commissions instead recommended that officers should be better trained on how to “lawfully” conduct strip-searches.