Controversial police powers allowing strip searching at music festivals have been investigated as part of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) last month.
The alleged illegal search of a 16 year old girl at last year’s Splendour in the Grass festival was investigated by the inquiry, where it was heard that she was left fearful and in tears. She was one of seven children who were strip-searched at the event.
The NSW police watchdog also revealed that it investigated six separate allegations of police misusing strip-search powers, and that there have been 3,919 strip-searches by police on women in NSW since 2016. Most were aged under 25, 122 under the age of 18 and girls as young as 12 were forced to take off their clothes under police strip-search powers.
Samantha Lee of the Redfern Legal Centre says that “there is no doubt these young women would have been scared, some terrified and most having no idea of their legal rights.”
Whilst children under 10 cannot be strip-searched, all minors must have a parent or guardian present unless the search is considered by necessary by police for the safety of the person or to prevent evidence being destroyed. These searches are only to be conducted when it is reasonable because of the seriousness or urgency of the circumstances
The LECC has heard that in some cases police were not aware of what is required when dealing with minors, and of questionable justification for conducting a strip-search. The lack of proper procedure and paperwork is being held as a theme for the enquiry, with police records showing strip searches as having been completed yet not recorded as such. Furthermore, of the 30 minors strip-searched only five had an appropriate adult recorded as being present.
Counsel assisting the commissioner, Peggy Dwyer, told of a case where a 15 year old boy was told to “hold your dick and lift your balls up, and show me your gooch [colloquial for the space between the testicles and anus]”. Another boy of 16 was told to pull down his shorts “grab his penis and lift it up”. “The male officer inserted his hands inside [the boy’s] underwear, and made contact with his testicles,” Dr Dwyer said. These were just 2 of 25 potentially illegal searches held on the day of an underage music festival.
Samantha Lee has stated that current legal thresholds and procedures fail to fully protect children from harm – “Young children are particularly vulnerable and at risk of harm from being strip-searched” and that “to protect children the law must be changed to prohibit the strip-searching of children, unless a court order is obtained.