A woman in Sydney says an incident at Homebush music festival in 2018, where she was forced to undergo a strip search from police, is forcing her to relive sexual assault from a year prior.
Aged 20, the woman spoke of the incident, with notable legal figures raising fears that the usage of strip searches is increasing. They also said these searches can trigger scenes of sexual assault for victims, as well as domestic violence. In other cases, the NSW Police have also found that minors as young as 10 years of age are enduring this practice, described as “harmful”.
The woman said she had to be stripped out of her clothing, where she felt completely helpless and terrified. Her ticker to the Midnight Mafia event on the 5th of May last year was also taken off her by police, even though nothing illegal had been found during the search.
Unable to be named for legal reasons, the woman noted her experienced was like being “cornered” into a booth, where two officers conducting the strip. She felt it was a “refresher” of her sexual assault experience the year prior, in which she was penetrated by two others.
“It was horrible, that’s how they made me feel. All I wanted was to go to the music festival,” she said in an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The organisers of the event have since refunded the price of her ticket, but she said that would not compensate for the amount of psychological trauma that was caused.
Recently, the Herald put a number of questions forward to NSW Police, including whether there were certain processes around if a person to be searched was a victim of past trauma, and how the practice would be handled.
A spokesperson did not respond to the questions accordingly, but a list of other responses noted that: “Members of the public with nothing to hide from the police should not be concerned about police searches.”
A counselling service for sexual assault victims has referred the woman to the Redfern Legal Centre. This has collided an open letter that was endorsed by senior figures – such as the former director of public prosecutions, and pioneering lawyer Elizabeth Evatt – calling for new legislation around strip search privileges.
This also comes after recent data obtained by Redfern noted that 296 minors were subject to field strip searches in a two-year period across 2016-17 financial years, and again in 2017-18’s financial year. The youngest was 10 years of age.
The number of searches has also risen by almost 50 per cent in the span of four years (2014-15 to 2017-18). The demographic of ages 18-25 also saw a bigger rise in being targeted, up by a huge 41.5 per cent during 2016-17 and 2017-18. Out of all age groups, however, 20-year-olds saw the biggest number of searches otu of any other single age – a mammoth 329 cases during 2017-18 alone.
Head of police accountability, solicitor Samantha Lee, said there is an obvious imbalance of power where younger people with minimal knowledge of the law were being made to strip in front of two officers.
Of all locations, the data also showed that Sydney Olympic Park and Moore Park – where a majority of festivals are held – were where a majority of searches occurred.
By law in NSW, police can carry out a strip search if the purposes show that the seriousness of the circumstances is necessary. Lee said that the data, in most cases, proved that a majority of recorded incidents weren’t meeting this criterion.