The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Pregnant Woman Stripsearched In QLD Bottleshop

Posted by Clem Bastow on January 29, 2009

We hope you’ll forgive the infrequent posting this week; all but one of the Chorus are based in Melbourne and we’re currently in the middle of a 100-year heatwave! It’s not condusive to particularly rational or eloquent thought, but I could certainly tell heat-stress from pure rage when I read this story this morning: a woman, eight months pregnant, has been forced to undergo a stripsearch – in full public view – in a Queensland bottleshop after staff became suspicious that she was shoplifting:

A 40-year old Ipswich woman, who was eight-and-a-half months’ pregnant, was forced to lift her shirt after being wrongly accused of shoplifting at the Springfield Lakes 1st Choice Liquor store on Monday.

The woman, who was taking her time with her purchase, was buying a birthday present for a friend.

The distraught woman was told if she refused the search in full view of other customers, police would be called.

[...]

Queensland Consumer Watch spokesman and Ipswich Councillor Paul Tully described the incident as totally appalling and an invasion of individual rights.

“This is a matter for the police, not voyeurs working in liquor stores forcing pregnant women to undertake partial strip searches in front of other beady-eyed customers,” he said.

Incredible! The store’s feeble excuse for the gross invasion of privacy was that there had been an incident a week or so earlier when a shoplifter posed as a pregnant woman in order to cart out stolen goods.

I’m completely zonked from heat right now and my knowledge of the intricacies of Queensland law in these instances is limited; can any Sunshine State readers shed any light on whether this is even legal?

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6 Responses to “Pregnant Woman Stripsearched In QLD Bottleshop”

  1. lilacsigil said

    I’m not in Queensland, but as far as I know the laws are the same everywhere in Australia – a retailer cannot detain or search a customer or their bag without permission. The retailer *can* ask a customer to leave, ban a customer from the shop and/or call the police. They cannot make someone stay until the police arrive. This applies even if “conditions of entry” signs are posted.

  2. ajlouny said

    Even if it was legal, it seems so wrong.

  3. Steven said

    I’d like to know that too. In other states they certainly can’t detain you, or search you and definitely not strip search you. I guess they could ask, but in NSW at least, you’re well within your rights to decline. I particularly hate the aggressive security guards who try and grab at the bags to search them.

    “Mr Tully called on the Queensland Government to make it illegal for store owners to require shoppers to submit to strip searches in public.”

    That suggests that they can require shoppers to be searched, but that surely can’t be correct.

    I know the fact that she is pregnant needs to be made clear because it ties in with the stores excuse about a shoplifter posing as pregnant, but the articles all seem aghast that anyone could do that to a *pause for effect* pregnant woman, as if that makes her immune from suspicion – pregnant women don’t steal? Other than that it relates to the stores excuse, it is as relevant as noting that she was buxom, leggy, or ugly.

    I think it is ridiculous that a storeperson tried, and succeeded in compelling a person to be strip searched in the middle of a shop.

  4. Steven said

    Does anyone have the authority to search my bags?
    from http://www.schoolies.qld.gov.au/schoolies/faq/
    (its a QLD govt site, so assuming it correct for QLD)

    ——–
    The law in relation to bag searches is as follows:

    A trader (including an apartment complex manager) can make it a term of entry into the store or apartment, that the trader has a right to conduct bag searches.
    Upon seeking to exercise that contractual right, the trader must ask for your consent to search your bag.
    If consent is given, the trader can search your bag.
    If you do not agree to a bag search, the trader cannot search your bag. If the trader does search your bag in this instance, they are committing an offence, as well as infringing your civil rights.
    If you do not give consent, the trader can exercise any rights in contract that they may have. This may include eviction from the shop/apartment, but only if the terms of the contract provide for this.
    ——-

    that is for bag searches, but I guess you could extrapolate from that.

  5. Itchy said

    I don’t necessarily think that immunity from suspicion is what is signified here, but more the implication that the pregnant body is sacred, and that it needs to remain hidden to retain that level of sanctity – that there are ‘acceptable’ degrees of visibility and invisibility when it comes to the pregnant form in our culture (a pregnant silhouette is fine, a bare pregnant stomach is not). I think what I find the most disturbing about this incident is the way that the woman at the centre of it all was coerced into having her body policed in that way. I think it’s dreadfully sad that she felt the only thing she could do was comply, rather than object.

  6. audreydarling said

    Of course retailers don’t have the right to strip search in public!
    That poor woman :-(

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