• NSW Police strip searches under scrutiny (AAP)
The Aboriginal Legal Service says it's likely the number of young people strip-searched by NSW police is considerably higher than what's been reported.
By
Rachael Hocking

Source:
NITV News
7 Nov 2019 - 4:49 PM  UPDATED 7 Nov 2019 - 7:12 PM

Around 10 per cent of the women and girls strip-searched by NSW police in the past three years were recorded as Indigenous, however its unclear how many of those were underage girls.

Data obtained by Redfern Legal Centre shows that more than 100 girls have been strip searched since 2016.

 

Other data obtained by the centre revealed a 10 year-old Indigenous person was strip-searched between 2017 and 2018. That person is the youngest recorded to be strip-searched by NSW Police since 2016.  

Two 11-year-old and two 12-year-old Indigenous children were also targeted in the three year period. 

Current data suggests Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for 10 per cent of all recorded strip-searches in the field.

 

Karly Warner, the CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service, says the real figures are likely to be higher.

 

"We say that the actual true number of strip-searches that are happening, especially within communities across NSW, is vastly underrepresented in these figures," she said.

"This is such an invasive, degrading and humiliating process, especially for Aboriginal girls and boys who are often the targets of over-policing, child removals, and it's unacceptable."

Whether or not someone was recorded as Indigenous in the data was based on their "racial appearance". A NSW police spokesperson clarified that recording racial background is not a mandatory part of strip searches and is generally based on whether a person self-identifies at the time of the search. 

Calls to raise age of criminal responsibility 

In NSW, police are permitted to carry out field strip-searches in urgent and serious cases, while anyone under the age of 10 cannot be subjected to a strip-search. Between the ages 10-17 years old, police are legally required to obtain a support person, such as a parent or guardian.

Ms Warner said clearer guidelines were needed when police interact with minors.

"Existing legislation here is vague and it's often open to wide interpretation, it's failing to provide the proper safeguards that our children need to prevent unlawful use of strip-searches occurring," she said. 

"There needs to be proper oversight, there needs to be independent oversight, and then there needs to be enforcement of those safeguards."

Ms Warner said it was another reason to raise the age of criminal responsibility. 

"The one way to stop young Aboriginal kids from coming into contact with the criminal justice system is to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 so we can ensure that 10, 11, 12 year old kids are actually safe, supported and thriving in culture and community - not within custody and not removed from their families," she said. 

Minister's comments 'out of step' 

On Wednesday, NSW Police Minister David Elliott said he "would want" his children strip-searched if they were suspected of wrongdoing. 

"I've got young children and if I thought the police felt they were at risk of doing something wrong, I'd want them strip-searched," Mr Elliott said.

"Having been Minister for Juvenile Justice, we have 10-year-olds involved in terrorism activity."

Ms Warner said the minister was "out of step with the community". 

"Everyone wants their daughter to feel safe and there is no circumstance where it is acceptable for children as young as ten to be asked to remove their clothes in front of adults," she said. 

NSW police minister defends strip-searching children after new data revealed
NSW Police Minister David Elliott has defended the strip-searching of girls after figures showed more than 100 girls have been searched in the past three years.