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NSW music festival deaths inquiry told trauma of strip-searches similar to that of sexual assaults
The Coronial inquest into the deaths of six young festivalgoers has today heard about the effects of ‘dehumanising’ body searches with a harm reduction campaigner and a criminologist saying the trauma experienced in police strip searches is akin to that suffered during sexual assaults.
Giving evidence to the inquiry today, RMIT criminology lecturer and researcher Peta Malins said the experience of being ordered to undress in front of police and accused of concealing drugs could cause long-lasting mental effects.
Malins advised “they talk about how huge the effect can be emotionally, the anxiety, the fear, increased heart rate, sweaty palms, shaking and nervousness
“They talk about how hard it was to answer the questions of the police.”
The issue of strip searches at music festivals has risen a number of times during the inquest, which is examining the deaths of six young people from MDMA toxicity at musical festivals between December 2018 and January 2019.
On Thursday, counsel assisting the coroner Peggy Dwyer advised that the inquest would seek access to NSW Police strip search protocols, saying the circumstances under which they were permitted “should be clearly understood by the families of the young people who are involved in the inquest and by the general public at large”.
However, today the Redfern Legal Centre released the results of a Freedom of Information request which suggested the protocols may not exist.
In December the legal centre requested a copy of standard operating procedures related to strip searches in NSW, but only received copies of extracts from the publicly available police code of practice and police force handbook.
In NSW, Police can carry out a strip-search in the field if the officer suspects on reasonable grounds that the search is necessary, and that the seriousness and urgency of the circumstances make it necessary.
However, critics of the practice say there is no detail on how police make that decision, and officers have breached their powers in the past.
Malins, who published an academic paper based on interviews with 22 people who had been searched by police, said being stopped and searched was already traumatic.
She advised that those strip-searched found it “particularly dehumanising” to be ordered to undress completely and display openings to cavities.
She stated “there was an overwhelming sense of powerlessness … a feeling as though they had been intruded upon.
“In one particular interview, the woman said the trauma triggered past experiences of sexual and physical abuse that she’d experienced.”
Will Tregoning, the founder of harm reduction organisation Unharm, said he had spoken to people who had likened their strip-searching to sexual assault.
Tregoning advised “it’s traumatic (and) my concern is it additionally trains people to not trust police.”
Tregoning said most police officers were pragmatic and held a very strong sense of social service but he said the drug searches could create a climate of fear and further barriers between young people and the police trying to keep them safe.
The Coronial inquiry was told on Thursday that police had been directed to reveal their strip-search protocols and an internal report on officers’ use and understanding of those guidelines.
Alex Ross-King, Nathan Tran, Diana Nguyen, Joseph Pham, Joshua Tam and Callum Brosnan died after consuming MDMA at NSW music festivals between December 2017 and January 2019.
17th July 2019 - Splendour in the Grass festivalgoers urged to stay safe
16th July 2019 - NSW Government’s festival licensing scheme needs ‘complete overhaul’
30th April 2019 - Pill testing saves lives at ACT’s Groovin the Moo festival
20th January 2019 - NSW Government to require licensing of music festivals after drug deaths
16th September 2018 - NSW Premier vows to ban Sydney music festival after drug deaths
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