Strip Search: a
humiliating and abusive practice
In the last sitting week before the
election in October 2008, the Government hurried legislation through the
Legislative Assembly to expand the power to strip search detainees in the ACT. ACT Corrections will now
be permitted to strip search people when it considers it “prudent” to do so.
Under the law as it stood Corrections could strip search only when there was a
suspicion on reasonable grounds that the person concerned was concealing
Strip searching is demeaning and
psychologically damaging, particularly for women detainees who typically have
experienced sexual abuse as children and already suffer mental health problems.
The Government moved the amendment in spite of its acknowledgement of the harm
“We are aware,” the
Attorney-General told the Assembly, “of the humiliating nature of a strip
search; we are aware of the intrusiveness; we are aware of the psychological
impact that it can have on a detainee who is regularly subjected to such a
Government justified the amendment on security grounds and, of all reasons, on
the grounds of its duty of care to prisoners. However, on the best available
information strip searching is ineffective in preventing drugs, its main target,
from entering prisons. Effectively the legislation legalises sexual assault on
vulnerable human beings within its care.
stop this harmful and humiliating practice.
your views known to your local member and others contesting the coming election.
here for a list of members.
a letter to the Canberra Times (firstname.lastname@example.org)
max 250 words.
your friends about what is being done and what it involves.
The Women and Prison Group and the Corrections Coalition
held a forum on Monday
29 September 2008 with Carmel Wise of the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre,
Dalby of Service Assisting Male Survivors of Sexual Assault (SAMSA) and Dr
Plummer, clinical psychologist. [Audio
of speeches and questions.] Here are some of the
things that were said:
"The Corrections Management (Amendment) Bill 2008 allows for strip
What this means is that your body is no longer your own. It means that
your consent you can be unclothed, have your body and your clothes searched.
means that without your consent you are expected to comply and if you
comply then the corrections officer has the authority to touch your body
make you comply" (Carmel Wise).
"It would be incorrect for you to assume that a strip search would be a one
incident. Strip searches happen when you go to or from court, when you have
out of a corrective officer's supervision for a period of time and even
you have been visited by family and/or friends" (Carmel Wise).
"To set up something, an essential part of which re-traumatises a huge
of your population (our estimate is up to half the guys who are in there)
just going to make the rehabilitative purpose of incarceration (if there
is one) almost impossible to achieve" (Jack Dalby)
"What we are saying in this type of legislation is that an attitude
dehumanizing, an attitude of humiliation is OK. What we're doing is saying
it's OK to train people to humiliate and dehumanize other people. What
saying is that part of the legal system is not about rehabilitation but is
power over for particular purposes" (Dr Plummer).
"I was one of the women who brought down the strip searching stats because
refused visitors. I refused to go out for medicals anywhere. I refused to
many other so called educational programs so I could not be strip searched
those reasons" (A member of the Woman and Prison Group).
"So that data is there [that strip searching] does have an impact on
attitudes. Often what the studies suggest is that the prison guards become
depersonalized. In other words they begin to think of the individuals that
are dealing with as less and less people and more and more objects" (Dr
"The impression that one is getting is that it is the prison officer's
which is opposing the original legislation passed last year that required
reasonable suspicion and I am wondering why it is, if that is the
"Providing some sort of support after the strip search . . . is really
for some individuals" (Dr Plummer).
is how the ACT Legislative Assembly debated the issue (after downloading the
PDF file go to page P3815)
of Address by Debbie Kilroy, OAM, President of Sisters Inside at the ACTCOSS
Conference on 5 September
release "Legislative Assembly authorises routine sexual abuse in
searching: background briefing
of arguments used by the Attorney-General in response to criticisms of the
legislation to allow routine strip searching
“Jail with no drugs or no rights?”
Article in the Canberra Times