Australian police criticised after ‘asking woman to remove tampon’ during controversial strip search

Police officers conducting a strip search in Australia told a woman to remove her tampon, an investigation has revealed.

The controversial searching tactics emerged as part of an inquiry by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC), the police watchdog, into five incidents where New South Wales officers strip searched young women at music festivals looking for drugs.

The report concluded there were recurring issues around whether the strip searches – none of which actually discovered any drugs – were lawful.

As well as one woman being told to remove her tampon during a search, others told the investigators they were humiliated and degraded by being required to squat, bend over and cough while pulling down their underwear.

There were also concerns about whether enough privacy was given to those being searched, as the doors to booths where strip searches were carried out were left open throughout.

The LECC recommended police apologise to some of the women involved, but NSW Police Force has so far only said it will consider the findings of the report.

The force’s manual on how to conduct searches states officers may “request that a person squat, lift their breasts, part their buttock cheeks or turn their body”.

Despite the criticism in the LECC review, the police force does not intend to abandon these guidelines to officers.

In several of the cases examined by the watchdog there was a “lack of clarity” around the lawfulness of some of the requests the LECC review found, including the incident in January 2019 where a woman was told to remove her tampon during a strip search.

In many cases, women were strip searched because a drug-sniffing dog had indicated them, but according to the law a dog indication along “does not constitute reason grounds” to start a search.

There has been growing criticism of how NSW police officers carry out strip searches in recent years.

A separate LECC last year reviewed seven other strip searches, including one where a 16-year-old Aboriginal boy was made to remove his shorts and squat, and concluded all were unlawful.

Freedom of information requests have also revealed the police force have strip searched 122 girls under the age of 18 in just three years, including two as young as 12.

An inquiry last year into another strip search at a music festival in 2018 heard a 16-year-old girl was left in tears after she was made to strip naked and then squat while an officer looked underneath her.

“I could not believe this was happening to me,” the girl said in a statement. “I could not stop crying. I was completely humiliated.”

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