About

Over 1,500 child strip searches by NSW Police in seven years

Share
A report found First Nations children made up almost 45% of child strip searches, “despite being only 6.2% of the population."
Child strip searches

NSW police conducted more than 1,500 strip searches on children aged 10-17 between 2016 and 2023, a new report has found.

That’s an average of 220 searches per year, according to Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) analysis of NSW police data.

The community legal centre’s report found First Nations children made up almost 45% of underage searches, “despite being only 6.2% of the population aged 10-17 in NSW”.

RLC also said the searches rarely led police to illicit items.

Strip searches

There are two types of police searches in NSW. General searches involve police patting down a person’s outer clothing, and passing a metal detector over them.

Strip searches – when a person is required to remove their clothing – should only be carried out in ‘serious and urgent’ circumstances.

Before conducting any search, an officer must have a reasonable suspicion that a person is carrying an unlawful item, like drugs.

NSW Police cannot search a child younger than 10-years-old.

Findings

According to the new RLC report, NSW police conducted 1,546 strip searches of children between July 2016 and June 2023.

The youngest person to be searched was a 10-year-old boy. At least two First Nations boys aged 11 were searched.

Several 12-year-old girls were searched during this period. First Nations girls made up 90% of these strip searches.

According to RLC, “First Nations children are strip searched at a younger age compared to non-First Nations children”.

Search items

The report said, “the younger the child, the less likely” it was that police would find an item during a strip search.

For example, less than 1% of searches of 11-year-olds led police to discover any illegal items. That’s compared to searches of 17-year-olds, which led police to illegal items during 45% of searches.

“Most strip searches yield no discovered items, and in cases where drugs are found, they typically involve minor possession,” RLC noted in its findings.

47% of strip searches of children took place in public, i.e., not in a police station.

Boys represented 75% of all children strip searched during the seven-year reporting period.

However, strip searches of girls increased by more than 50% between 2022 and 2023.

RLC has called on the NSW Government to immediately pause strip searches on 10 to 17-year-olds.

“The law must change to protect children,” it said.

One of the report authors, Samantha Lee, called strip searches an “invasive” and “harmful process”. Lee called the overrepresentation of First Nations children in the report, “simply unacceptable.”

“NSW Police have strip searched the equivalent of 51 classes of school children,” she said.

NSW Government

Police Minister for NSW Yasmin Catley said the state’s police force “take their powers extremely seriously”.

She acknowledged that the report’s findings “may be cause for concern for the community,“ and said she shared “some of those concerns”.

Catley said she’s held talks with “key stakeholders” on the matter of child strip searches and that it was her job as Police Minister to consider whether current policies are “fit for purpose”.

13 YARN: 13 92 76

Become smarter in three minutes

Get the daily email that makes reading the news actually enjoyable. Stay informed, for free.

Be the smart friend in your group chat

Join thousands of young Aussies and get our 5 min daily newsletter on what matters in your world.

It’s easy. It’s trustworthy. It’s free.