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Aboriginal People Targeted for Police Strip Searches | August 2019

22 August 2019


A new report showing that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accounted for 10% of all recorded strip-searches in the field and 22% of all recorded-strip searches in custody demonstrates the urgent need for law reform and cultural change to stop police from carrying-out this ‘unlawful’ practice, according to the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (‘ALS’).

Released today, the Report, Rethinking Strip Searches by NSW Police, commissioned by the Redfern Legal Centre and prepared by UNSW Law academics Dr Michael Grewcock and Dr Vicki Sentas, reveals a dramatic twentyfold increase in strip-searches over the past 12 years.

ALS Chief Executive Officer Karly Warner says we’re finding that Aboriginal children as young as 11 have been inappropriately strip-searched by police.

“In some remote areas of NSW, where there’s large Aboriginal populations, we’ve had reports of young people who are rugged-up on a cold winter’s night, wearing hoodies, beanies and gloves, being unfairly stopped and searched by police, with no apparent justification,” Ms Warner said.

“We’ve known for a long time that in places like Bourke and Brewarrina, around 90% of strip-searches result in a ‘no find’, whilst in Moree, the rate of unsuccessful searches is as high as 95%.

“Strip search is a deeply intrusive, disempowering and humiliating process, even more so for vulnerable Aboriginal people who have too often been the targets of discrimination and over-policing.

“The excessive use of strip-searching is causing significant emotional and psychological harm in Aboriginal communities, particularly for children and young people. And as the Report shows, only 30% of strip-searches in 2017/18 ended in a criminal charge.

“The ALS is extremely concerned about reports of children being strip-searched, this violates child rights principles and we’re calling on the State’s law-makers to improve legal safe guards.

“A key recommendation in the Report is that police should record the reasons for any strip search taking place on body worn video prior to commencing the search. This would be a step in the right direction towards increasing accountability.

“But legislative change alone will not fix the root of the problem. Cultural change aimed at increasing respect for human rights and creating proper accountability for any breaches is critical to addressing the issue” Ms Warner said.

ALS Media Contact: (02) 9213 4112 / [email protected] 

Key findings of the report include:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accounted for 10% of all recorded strip searches in the field and 22% of all recorded strip searches in custody;

  • Only 30% of strip searches in the field in the 2017/18 financial year resulted in a criminal charge;

  • Almost half (45%) of all recorded strip searches in the 2017/18 financial year were of young people aged 25 years and younger;

  • Drug detection dogs may be propelling unnecessary strip searches;

  • Less than 16.5% of all charges arising from strip searches result in charges of drug supply

  • Almost 82% of all charges are for personal possession of a prohibited drug.

  • The law is failing to protect children from being searched;

  • Strip searches cause significant psycho-social harm.

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