Thirty people protested outside Silverwater Correctional Services on November 19 to demand an end to strip searches in New South Wales.
Ban Strip Searches Coalition NSW organised the action after it was revealed that women prisoners are routinely being strip searched.
The NSW Inspector of Custodial Services’ report, released on October 27, on the women’s correctional centre Mary Wade revealed that detainees are being subjected to routine and, at times, random strip searches.
Prisoner rights advocate Kat Armstrong told the protest that the act of strip searching “is definitely sexual assault”.
“Correctional services assault on women in NSW prisons on a daily basis. Strip searches traumatise victims and retraumatise survivors of sexual assault. Most women in prison have experienced abuse at some time in the past.”
Justice Action spokesperson Brett Collins condemned Corrective Services’ justification of strip searches “as a means for locating contraband”.
“Over the 12 months to October 2019, no contraband whatsoever was found. As strip searches are only recorded if illicit goods are uncovered, there’s no record of how many women were strip searched over that period.”
Despite widespread condemnation of strip searching, the NSW police have continued their practice. According to the Redfern Legal Centre, even under COVID-19 health restrictions, police conducted 96 strip-searches on children over the last year. Twenty one per cent were First Nations’ people and one was 11 years old.
Redfern Legal Centre, together with law firm Slater and Gordon, is investigating a possible class action lawsuit against NSW police over the alleged “systemic” misuse of strip searches over the last six years.
The Ban Strip Searches in Coalition NSW is made up of Justice Action, Nelly’s Healing Centre, the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA), Macquarie University Women's Collective and Socialist Alliance.
It wants an end to the routine strip searching of women prisoners and for Corrective Services NSW to apologise and compensate the women it has assaulted. It also wants to end the ability of NSW police to strip search people in custody, on the street or at music festivals. It says body scanners must replace invasive strip searches.
According to NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge, NSW police have conducted almost 2 million searches since 2013 despite there being “no proven impact on drug use or community safety”.
The Greens introduced an amendment to the law governing police powers in relation to drugs and strip searches on November 11. It wants an end to the routine strip searching of women prisoners, prohibit strip searches of children under 16 years old and only permit strip searches of children aged 16 and 17 years in exceptional circumstances.
It tightens the circumstances in which personal searches may be carried out and prohibits police from using a dog to search a person for drugs. The amendment also requires the Commissioner of Police to record and report to parliament annually on the number of searches, including strip searches, carried out.
[Sign an online petition is calling for a ban on the use of strip searches. Rachel Evans was strip searched after attending a refugee rights rally in November 2017.]