Young People “Effectively Sexually Assaulted” In Police Strip Searches, Says NSW Greens MP

NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge has claimed young people are “effectively being sexually assaulted by the police” during strip searches, as the NSW Police watchdog works to determine whether officers broke the law by strip searching a 16-year-old girl at last year’s Splendour In The Grass music festival.

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The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) inquest, which began Monday, has heard evidence the girl was subject to a false positive detection by a drug sniffer dog while entering the Byron Bay festival grounds.

The girl, whose name has been suppressed, was allegedly separated from her friends, led to a police tent, and asked to strip naked in the presence of a female officer.

“I did not stop crying for approximately 20 minutes,” the girl said in a statement read by counsel assisting the commissioner, Peggy Dwyer.

“I was absolutely shocked that the police would do this to me.”

The LECC is investigating whether officers violated their own search powers by conducting the search without a parent or another trusted adult present, as is required by legislation.

“Of course we need to toughen up the laws, but we also need the police to understand the current laws,” Shoebridge told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

“From the evidence we’ve heard in the last two days, it’s clear that many police see strip searches as an automatic result from a drug dog indication.

“As we’ve seen at Splendour In The Grass, this means dozens of people being humiliated, effectively sexually assaulted by police, on the opinion of a dog.”

The commission has heard evidence from a senior police officer who oversaw operations at Splendour In The Grass, who admitted the relevant legislation – the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act (LEPRA) – contains no guidelines which “would indicate in what circumstances a strip search would be appropriate.”

The strike-rate of strip searches has also been brought into question, with the police’s own data showing only 8.4% of the 143 strip searches conducted at Splendour In The Grass in 2018 resulted in the detection of illicit substances.

“The police know they’re not stopping drugs getting into music festivals, they know that the great majority of these strip searches are finding no drugs, and not in any way reducing drug supply,” Shoebridge said.

As reported in The Guardian, a police officer yesterday admitted to the commission that all 19 of the strip searches they conducted at the festival in 2018 may have been illegal as they did not pass the “seriousness and urgency” threshold described in the LEPRA.

“If police didn’t have a lawful basis to conduct the strip search, well, then they have committed the crimes of both assault and battery,” Shoebridge said.

“Those are crimes for which they should be held to account.”

A spokesperson for NSW Police Minister David Elliott declined to comment on the matter while it is before the LECC.

The hearings will continue through Thursday.