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Fresh data from the Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) has revealed that more than 4,000 strip searches were conducted in the past two years in NSW, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and children disproportionately affected.

Of the 4,447 strip searches conducted, nothing illegal was found to have occurred in 60 per cent of cases. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were subjected to 9 to 11 per cent of the strip searches carried out between 2020 and 2022, despite comprising only 3.4 per cent of the NSW population.

“It is shocking to learn that even during the pandemic thousands of young people and First Nations people were subjected to harmful and invasive strip searches,” said RLC Senior Police Accountability Solicitor Samantha Lee on releasing the data this week.

In the 2020-21 financial year, 15 per cent of all children strip searched were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. That number increased to 18 per cent last financial year, up to 24 May 2022. Dubbo accounted for the greatest number of strip searches carried out in a regional suburb.

Samantha Lee, Redfern Legal Centre's senior police accountability senior solicitor Samantha Lee, Redfern Legal Centre's senior police accountability senior solicitor

It is simply unacceptable that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and children continue to be disproportionately over-represented in these figures.

“Redfern Legal Centre welcomed NSW Police policy changes in 2020 designed to increase safeguards around strip searches, but with more than 4000 invasive searches conducted since, even during periods of COVID lockdown, something is very wrong,” she said.

Lee called for urgent legislative change to ensure the public’s safety and to provide clear guidance to police, noting that, with festivals and other major events resuming in NSW, the need for reform is more pressing than ever.

RLC applied to the NSW police for a breakdown of the number of strip searches resulting in criminal charges; however, the request was denied.

The Centre appealed the decision in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, but was unsuccessful.