In really disturbing news, new data reveals girls as young as 12 and 13 are being subjected to the extremely invasive – and at times illegal – practice of strip-searching by NSW Police, despite the fact that experts suggest 60 per cent of strip-searches find absolutely nothing.
The most recent government data, which was obtained by Redfern Legal Centre through freedom of information laws, show that police officers using strip-searching powers on young girls has jumped from just seven to 25 searches from 2021-22 and 2022-23.
This number amounts to a 30 per cent increase in strip-searches used on young females under the age of 17 – figures that have understandably alarmed experts, who are once again calling for an immediate end to the laws.
“What this recent data shows is that there has been an increase in female children being stripped searched by NSW Police. The youngest female strip-searched is 12 years of age. And the youngest First Nations child strip-searched [is] also 12 years of age,” Redfern Legal Centre senior solicitor Samantha Lee told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“When you think about a 12-year-old girl, or boy, they’re still in primary school, they may or may not be going through puberty. Their bodies are developing, and they have lots of vulnerabilities around that.
“We’ve also seen, unfortunately, still a disproportionate number of First Nations people and children strip searched. So to me that obviously says that the law needs to be changed. And we need to do this immediately.”
Strip-searches involve a police officer asking you to remove or move clothing for a visible examination of your body and “are only meant to occur in the most exceptional of circumstances”, Lee added.
“The mere suspicion of minor drug possession does not give rise to a strip-search. It may give rise to a general search. But it certainly should not meet that high legal threshold of a strip-search.
“The fact that strip-searches are quite common, and thousands of them are happening across New South Wales, then that statistic in itself tells me that the law is not being applied lawfully.”
The deeply invasive practice is used heaps at music festivals – a setting that is supposed to be safe and fun for young people – and most commonly occurs if a police sniffer dog is believed to have detected drugs on a person. However, sometimes it can be as simple as someone being intoxicated or acting nervously that can justify a search.
This means a lot of the time, young girls and boys are being subjected to unlawful, and unproductive searches that have the potential to be extremely harmful and traumatic.
“The stats are pretty much the same as they have been over five years – that hovering around 60 per cent of strip-searches find absolutely nothing,” she said.
Lee described one incident at a music festival where a particular woman was told to take off all her clothing, squat and pull out her tampon before a female officer laid underneath the woman to “look up into her vaginal area”.
“Now, I mean, one cannot begin to imagine how powerless, humiliating [and] traumatic such [an] experience would be. Nothing was found on this young woman. She was then actually told to go home and her ticket to the festival was confiscated for absolutely no reason.”
Lee said the women was provided with no support by police, and was left in tears after the experience.
“Unfortunately, it’s not a one off,” Lee said.
Associate Professor Liz Scott, from the Brain and Mind Centre Youth Model at the University of Sydney told the Sydney Morning Herald that “strip-searches are more likely to force young people into risky behaviour” like not wanting to participate in pill testing.
Just last week the state government announced that it would introduce new laws for people caught with small amounts of illicit drugs to be issued with minor fines rather than charges, as a way to minimise harm.
“I think that’s a really positive step … looking at minor drug possession as not a high end serious offence, although there’s obviously health issues and harm minimisation, that’s really important for young people,” Lee said.
Of the changes, Lee encourages that NSW Police look at strip-searches within he same framework and through a health perspective.
“Strip-searches harm young people, they harm children, they actually end up in long term trauma because of the strip-search. So if the government is looking at this issue from a health perspective, then they really need to question the strip-searching of children and how not only unhealthy it is, but how invasive and traumatic it is.
“I stand by the fact that this process is beyond all forms of child protection principles, and should be stopped immediately.”