Justice Action had the opportunity to co-host a peaceful protest against strip searches in women’s prisons in front of the Silverwater Correctional Centre.
The demonstration was also co-hosted by Nelly’s Healing Centre, Indigenous Social Justice Association, Macquarie University Women’s Collective and Sydney Socialist Alliance. Without the support of these organisations the protest would not have been successful.
The police were present and suggested that we needed permission to hold a demonstration, but we insisted that according to protocol we did not need it. The police hesitantly accepted our position and allowed the protest to continue, given we did not cause any major disturbances.
Two female ex-prisoners, Helen Eason, the founder of the Nelly’s Healing Centre, and Kat Armstrong, shared their personal experiences of being strip searched. Kat Armstrong shared that on an occasion when she refused to be strip searched due to her past experiences of abuse, she was pinned down and forced to undress. Helen also shared that on one occasion she was told to remove her sanitary products when she was strip searched and was not given fresh products afterwards. These actions by correctional officers are a violation and perpetuate abuse.
During the protest, we received support from inmates being transported from the centre, banging loudly in solidarity from inside their transport vehicles. Those driving by, and entering the centre via cars also honked their horns in support of the cause, joining our call to end the strip searching of female detainees.
We are calling for the end of routine strip searching and for Corrective Services to apologise and provide compensation for the trauma caused. We are also calling for the NSW state government to end the wide-spread use of strip searches at music festivals and against others in police custody. We strongly support the introduction of technology such as body scanners to replace invasive strip searches, in line with the international research that demonstrates that these technologies are a more effective way of finding contraband without dehumanising the individual.