Disturbing new data from NSW Police shows the deeply invasive – and potentially illegal – practice of strip-searching is still disproportionately targeting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, some of which are children as young as 11.
The government data, which was obtained by the Redfern Legal Centre through the Freedom of Information Act (1982) and seen by PEDESTRIAN.TV, reveals that 3750 people were strip-searched by police over a 12 month period.
Of those, 473 people identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, with 150 identifying as women. That’s over 12% of NSW Police strip-search targets being Indigenous, despite these groups only making up 2.9% of the NSW population.
In the previous financial year, there were 492 Indigenous people subject to strip-searches.
From the total 3750 people who were strip-searched, 96 were under the age of 18, including an 11-year-old Indigenous child. Just over half of the 3750 people (54%) were found ‘without items’, a.k.a. illegal drugs or weapons.
The number of children strip-searched – let those words sink in – was a slight decrease from the previous 12 months, which saw 175 kids subject to a strip-search, 22 of whom were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander
“Police have failed and continue to fail when a strip search occurs,” said Redfern Legal Centre’s Police Accountability Practice solicitor Samantha Lee told NITV news.
“Police are targeting vulnerable people, and it is very unjust.”
The data also examines exactly how many people were strip-searched in each suburb, and there were some pretty large numbers floating about the state.
Locations such as Centennial Park (85 searches), Dubbo (80), Haymarket (67), Liverpool (76) and Moore Park (76) had a vast majority over other suburbs. Meanwhile, suburbs like Richmond, Concord, Shellharbour, Castlereagh and Drummoyne had a total of 0 strip searches amongst them.
In Dubbo, 53 of the 80 individuals strip-searched were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Earlier this year, the NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) reported that strip-searches led by NSW Police were inconsistent, and at times, downright concerning, with 113 different procedures being used across the board.
So yeah, the entire practice of strip-searching may not even be legal in its current form.
Slater and Gordon have teamed up with the Redfern Legal Centre to prepare a class action in NSW that looks to compensate those who have been unfairly strip-searched by NSW Police.
“People who have been subjected to unlawful and invasive searches by NSW Police have rights to seek redress, Slater and Gordon Senior Associate Ebony Birchall told The Guardian.
“By grouping these claims into potential class actions, people can stand together and demand change.”