A security firm has told the Herald it is illegal to pat down students - even at a school ball.
Elton Rangi, founder of Artus Group, was appalled to hear students attending Wesley College's school ball on Saturday were patted down, with girls reportedly having to expose their upper thighs before they were allowed in.
A legal expert has also questioned the way students were searched but stopped short of saying it was illegal.
A 17-year-old student who attended the ball at Auckland's Ellerslie Event Centre said girls were herded one by one into a room and searched by a female security guard who asked them to lift their dresses up high, meaning they often revealed their underwear.
The girl said she was patted down by the ungloved officer, who touched around her breasts and her hips. A second adult was not in attendance, she said.
Her mother, a Corrections officer, said the search had been poorly performed and she believed her daughter had been "violated".
However, Wesley College Principal Dr Brian Evans said he was comfortable with how security was handled. The event centre offered several levels of security protocols, and Wesley College had elected to have students patted down and bags searched.
Ellerslie Event Centre's general manager, Craig Fenwick, said school balls had been held there for 14 years.
Security checks were undertaken at the request of schools, who were encouraged to warn students beforehand that checks would be a condition of entry. The security plan was reported to police before each ball.
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For privacy reasons girls were taken into a separate room with "two female security personnel – a female security guard and a female observer - present at all times", he said.
Ellerslie hosted five school balls last weekend. Every student had been asked for consent before being searched, and nobody had complained, he said.
But Rangi, whose company provides security to companies that host school balls, said nobody had the right to touch another person without their consent, including security guards.
Parental consent would also be needed to search minors under 18 years old, he said.
While schools and event centres might not be aware of the rules, security firms should have a better understanding of the law, Rangi said.
"It's frustrating that security providers don't understand that they can't do it. We [security guards] have no more powers than any normal person. If a normal person cannot conduct an invasive search, then security guards cannot either."
Rangi said even police needed to cite New Zealand law to conduct a search of an individual.
"The schools themselves understand they have no rights to do so, as if they conduct these searches, a parent will complain and the school will have liability.
"These are young adults and you really need to treat them differently. In this case you'd probably need the permission of a parent or guardian," he said.
Artus Group had a strict policy of searching only students' bags - and even then in a respectful way.
A sign on entry alerted people that they would have a simple bag check and be asked to turn out their jacket pockets, but at no time would there be physical contact.
He believed treating students with "respect and dignity" meant they acted more responsibly.
However Youth Law general manager Jennifer Braithwaite said those over 16 were able to give consent to a search but she had concerns over how high the girls were asked to lift their skirts.
If students were asked to lift their dresses so high their underwear was visible, it would be a privacy breach, she said.
"If the students were not told what the nature of the search would be before they were asked for consent there is a question whether that consent was valid."
She also said students should be informed about any searches at the time they buy their tickets.