A disturbing new report has found a dramatic rise in strip-searches by NSW Police in a year where music festivals have been postponed.
New data obtained by the Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) reveals that NSW Police performed over 9,100 strip searches between 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 combined. Of that number, First Nations people and children as young as ten were disproportionately targeted.
Despite the fact that Indigenous Australians make up only 3.4% of the NSW population, the report found that they made up 13% of strip-searches—a 4% increase from 2018-2019 to 2019-2020. In Dubbo, a region town in the state’s west, Indigenous Australians made up two thirds of the number of people searched in 2019-2020. According to the 2016 Census data, Indigenous Australians make up only 13.2% of the town’s population.
“NSW Police have long been targeting music festivals with large-scale strip search operations,“ RLC police accountability solicitor Samantha Lee said according to a press release about the report. “But during COVID-19, the growing number of police strip searches on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has become starkly apparent. It’s time to end this invasive practice.”
“We already know that police are conducting strip searches on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at disproportionately high rates,” Lee added. “But we now also know that this disparity is increasing.”
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should not have to live in fear of being strip searched by police. This harmful practice is eroding good community relations and feeds into distrust and fear of the police.”
The report also adds that 96 children, aged 10-17 years old, were strip-searched within the last year. Of them, 20% were Indigenous Australians. And, as experts warn, the everlasting impact a strip-search has on a child’s mental health lasts beyond the time spent with police.
“Forcing a child to remove their clothes is deeply intrusive, disempowering and humiliating, and especially for Aboriginal people who have too often been targets of discrimination and overpolicing,” Lee said.
“The excessive use of strip-searching is causing extreme emotional and psychological harm,” Karly Warner, the chief executive of the NSW Aboriginal Legal Service, told Guardian Australia. “An unclothed and traumatic early encounter with police is something that children will have to deal with long after they’re allowed to put their clothes back on.”
“It is unjust, it violates children’s rights, and it undermines the relationship that police have with children.”
The data comes after a previous Law Enforcement Conduct Commission report earlier in the year investigating searchers which were found to have been unlawful. One such case within the report, involved a 16-year-old girl at last year’s Splendour in the Grass, who, after disclosing her age, did not get to contact her parents or an adult who could care for her as the law specifies the police should do when dealing with a minor, but was instead taken by police to a tent and told to remove her clothing.
“I could not believe this was happening to me,” she said via a statement read out by counsel assisting the commission, Peggy Dwyer, back in October last year. “I could not stop crying. I was completely humiliated. A strip-search is by necessity a grave intrusion of a citizen’s privacy and dignity.”
Hero source: Matt Jelonek (Getty).