Festival season is almost here, which means expect plenty of police, sniffer dogs and strip searches. You know, until the debate over pill testing finally ends and the government decides that it’s probably a better option.
Right now there’s an inquiry happening into the strip search of a then 16-year-old girl at the 2018 Splendour In The Grass. The girl, known to the public as BRC, was brought to the attention of police after a sniffer dog sat down next to her. She was taken to a tent away from everyone else where she originally thought she was going to be patted down for drugs. An officer told her to strip, squat down, and even to lift up a panty liner to be inspected. No drugs were found.
In a statement, BRC pointed out that she was on her own and really scared, despite not having any drugs on her. “I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I could not stop crying. I was completely humiliated,” she said.
“Every time I saw a police officer at the festival I started to feel anxious. My whole body would clench up and I would get clammy and hot. I was scared to make eye contact with them in case it happened again. Each time I walked into the festival I would feel anxious.”BRC
BRC was one of six people under the age of 18 who were strip searched at Splendour without contacting a parent or guardian. The officer involved has since admitted that the strip search was unlawful – so not quite technically illegal, but not allowed either. Either way, it shouldn’t have happened.
The officer involved also admitted that of the 19 strip searches they did during the festival, they found only one single valium tablet. Of the 143 strip searches done in total at Splendour, only 10% of people had drugs on them.
This all began when a sniffer dog sat down next to BRC. While sniffer dogs are adorable, they’re not super reliable and a 2011 study found that they can indicate false positives up to 80% of the time – which was the case here. So, if you’re off to a festival this summer and a dog sits down next to you, what do you do?
Obviously don’t resist. Greens MP David Shoebridge suggests beginning with “I don’t consent to this search”. Comply, but note your objection.
If the situation escalates to a strip search, there are more rules designed to protect you. You can’t be strip searched in public, and you should be searched by an officer of the same gender as you. This is one of those times where gender is seen as pretty binary though, there probably won’t be too much thought beyond male and female.
You can’t be physically touched, especially not your genitals. Mr Shoebridge also believes it’s “probably unlawful” to be asked to squat.
If you ask a police officer for their name, rank, and station, they have to give it to you. Police also aren’t allowed to stop bystanders (that aren’t getting in the way) from filming them doing their job.
If you’re off to a festival over the summer, have fun, know your rights, and stay safe.