Research shows drug detection dogs and strip searches can cause ongoing trauma for festival goers

By Phoebe Humphrey | @PhoebeHumphrey_

A recent study by RMIT University found that drug detection dogs and strip search operations at festivals are failing to deter drug use and inflicting trauma on attendees.

Lecturer in Criminology and Justice Studies, Dr Peta Malins researched the implications of being publicly searched at festivals, finding individuals suffered more than post short-term humiliation.

“I don’t think enough is being taken into account in terms of the kinds of trauma these searches can create in the moment and also ongoing trauma,” Dr Malins said.

Participants in Dr Malins study experienced “extreme anxiety” when they were publically searched and said there was a “stigma and shame associated with being publicly questioned”.

Published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, one participant in the study found strip searches particularly traumatising due to coming from a background of family violence and being a victim of sexual assault.

“To have the police officer tell her to remove her clothes and even touch her in that situation brought back a lot of her trauma. This lasted up to a year after this search, leading her to feel anxious around police and even experience suicidal thoughts,” she said.

Dr Malins detailed how these police operations are also negatively affecting police community relations, especially with young people.

“It’s affecting people’s willingness to seek help from police, which can have big health implications, especially if they are running into trouble with drugs,” she said.

Participants in Dr Malins’ research detailed how sniffer dog operations are not an effective way to deal with drug use at festivals, calling police to look at other alternatives.

With ‘Groovin the Moo’ music festival making its lap around Australia, the festival in Canberra ran pill-testing initiatives for a second year, proving successful in keeping patrons safe.

“People will continue to use drugs at these events, but they need to be able to find ways to use them more safely, and pill testing provides that mechanism,” she said.

Dr Malins said police resources need to be directed towards supporting evidence based initiatives and harm reduction interventions.

“Participants in my study talked about how much they like it when police are at festivals with the aim to help them, rather than punish them,” she said.

Dr Malins recommended other successful harm reduction interventions such as Dancewize spaces at festivals, a non-judgmental, educational, and health based space where patrons can seek support and advice on safe partying behaviours.

If this information has raised any personal issues please contact the following support service.

Lifeline 13 11 14
For more information on Dancewize: https://www.hrvic.org.au/dancewize

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