Police in Australia asked a woman to remove tampon during a strip search, an official report has found.
The request was made during one of a number of personal body searches that were documented in a report into misconduct by the New South Wales Police Force.
The report by the New South Wales (NSW) Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) said the woman received the request during a strip search outside the Star Casino in Sydney in January last year.
The commission looked into NSW police after a series of complaints and local media reports, mostly about searches carried out at music festivals.
Complaints were received about the searches of four young women; at the Hidden Music Festival, the Secret Garden Music Festival and outside Star Casino in the same year, mostly as a result of reactions by drug detection dogs.
During the search at the Hidden Music Festival at the Olympic Park in Sydney, on 2 March 2019, a woman was made to cough and squat, without proper privacy.
No illicit drugs were found but she was detained for more than an hour before being evicted from the festival and issued with a six-month banning notice.
The commission said the police should apologise to her.
In February 2019 at the Secret Garden Music Festival in Brownlow Hill, about 35 miles (55km) from Sydney, a performer was required to pull down her underpants and bend over, according to another complaint.
Her parents described it as a “degrading act”, after which a male police officer spoke to her “unprofessionally” and laughed at her. Again, no illicit drugs were found.
At the Midnight Mafia Musical Festival in May 2019, there were reports that two patrons, at least one of whom was female, were strip-searched in a “humiliating” way and then evicted, despite no drugs being found.
At the same festival at the Olympic Park in Sydney the year before, an 18-year-old woman was subjected to a strip search she described as “traumatic”, but was then escorted from the venue, again despite no drugs being found.
The search involving the request to remove the tampon was investigated by NSW police’s Professional Standards Command, but the probe was not monitored by the commission, with the police’s investigation finding there was a “lack of clarity” about whether officers had been lawful in making such a request.
NSW’s Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (LEPRA) says that police officers carrying out strip searches may require a person to remove their clothes and may examine a person’s body – but not body cavities.
They must also ask for the person’s co-operation, inform them of why they are carrying out the search and conduct the search in the “least invasive” way “practicable in the circumstances”.
The commission said many of the officers involved in the searches had been interviewed and various actions had been taken by the force following the investigation, including the introduction of new roles at major events and improved guidance, education and briefing procedures.
It noted that an earlier report had found that legal advice on whether a person can be asked to move a part of their body during a search was that while “the suspect can be asked to perform these actions, no opinion was provided as to whether the suspect may be required to perform them or, whether a request having been made, the suspect is under a legal obligation to comply”.
It added that the police’s search manual currently states that officers may ask a person to squat, lift their breasts, part their buttock cheeks or turn their body but a new version of the manual is being drafted.
The conclusion to the report said that “many practices have been substantially improved based on these particular investigations, a wider body of complaints have been that have been considered, the reports of the LECC and general policy considerations,” but looked forward to a further report from the police force which would focus on “systems”.