The Issues

Problems with the Current Laws

There are two types of strip searches: one that can be conducted at a police station and the other conducted in any other place (s.32 Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW) (LEPRA).

Both searches require police to suspect on reasonable grounds that a strip search is necessary. For a search outside a police station, police may conduct a strip search if the officer ‘suspects on reasonable grounds that the strip search is necessary for the purposes of the search and that the seriousness and urgency of the circumstances make the strip search necessary ‘(s.31(b), LEPRA)

The law fails to provide any clear guidance to police as what this actually means. The lack of guidance allows for police to widely interpret the law and instigate a strip search when it may be unnecessary or unjustified.

The level of community concern about the use and application of strip searches has been so significant the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC), the peak police watch dog in NSW, has recently announced it will be investigating their use by police1.

Overuse of Strip Searches

A strip search is not intended to be the first port of call, but in NSW the practice is occurring too frequently and too often.

The overuse of strip searches makes people feel unsafe and exposes young people, children and adults to unnecessary, humiliating and potentially harmful procedures.

A high number of strip searches find nothing illegal (64 per cent in 2017), which places serious doubt on whether many of these searches were necessary and justified.2

Emma’s Story

Emma (not her real name) was subjected to one of these full body strip searches. No illegal substances or objects were found, yet she was escorted out of the festival premises and her ticket taken.

Emma was in her late teens when she was strip searched at a music festival. After having been subjected to a full strip search with her hands placed on a table and her back to police, not one illegal object or substances was found. Emma will never forget how humiliated and vulnerable she felt.

Emma says: “I don’t tell many people about what happened because I feel very vulnerable, embarrassed and get teary.”

Emma says she will now never approach police again, even if she needs help. This is where unsound policing causes harm.

[1] LECC Investigation of NSW Police Force Strip Searches, Media Release, 29 Oct 2018.

[2] ABC, World Today, 14 Nov 2018, ‘Number of strip searches in NSW double in a year, triggering Law Commission inquiry’ by Hagar Cohen.