Strip-searched to embarrass

by Chris Griffith
Published 12 May 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


Police recently strip-searched nine young Aboriginal women at the Mackay watchhouse in order to "embarrass" and "humiliate" them, a submission to the state government's Police Service review has claimed.

The submission said the strip-searches took place between December 1995 and March this year. It said some of the women searched had been charged with offences as minor as fare evasion, some legally were children, and some strip searches had been conducted using force.

The claims were contained in a submission by the Mackay and District Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Corporation for Legal Aid Services, one of 49 public and 79 confidential submissions so far sent to the police review headed by former CJC chairman Sir Max Bingham.

Police yesterday refused to comment on the allegations.

The officer-in-charge of the Central Police Region, Assistant Commissioner Alan Honor, said police would provide an official response if asked by the Review team.

"Additionally, I have not received any complaints about these allegations.

"Therefore I am not going to comment on matters which have not been the subject of official complaints."

However the head of the CJC's Misconduct Division, Michael Barnes, said the commission maintained its concern about the standards applied to police strip searches and had taken the matter up with police. He said he could not comment about specific cases.

The submission said some of the nine women "objected strenuously" to the searches and "force was applied to make them conform".

"There can be no other reason that strip searching of females occurs with such regularity in Mackay other than that the Police either derive perverse pleasure in having females humiliated in the watchhouse or else they are voyeurs themselves who take pleasure in seeing females reduced to a state of embarrassment when in a position of utter helplessness."

It said the women had been charged "in the main" with street offences -- obscene language, disorderly conduct, fare evasion, resisting police in the execution of duty, and obstructing police.

Some of the nine faced stealing and assault charges.

Nevertheless, police needed "reasonable grounds" that a search would reveal evidence of the offence a charge had been laid for, or in the case of the Drugs Misuse Act, of a drug offence.

"There are no valid grounds for such a search particularly when a person is charged with being drunk and/or charged with street offences," it said.

"The strip-searching of females at the Mackay watchhouse is illegal and constitutes an assault on members of the public which assaults cannot be authorised, justified or excused by law."

The submission said all the complaints of strip-searching were by young females, and "based on the absence of complaints", the same procedure had not been adopted for young male offenders.

It called for strict strip-searching guidelines to be spelt out in the police Operational Procedures Manual.

Meanwhile, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Ian Dearden yesterday criticised the Police Service for making its submission to Sir Max's review confidential.

He said the confidentiality tag was "counterproductive" as it precluded public debate on police recommendations, and "lended an air of secrecy to the inquiry".

"Clearly the position of the Police Service is the pivotal submission of this review.

"We won't be able to tell if the Police Minister adopts the police line."