April 7, 2023
Report revealed concerning strip-search practice on thousands of children in England and Wales
A report published by Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza revealed that at least 2,847 children as young as eight have been strip-searched by police officers across England and Wales between 2018 and 2022.
The report found that 38% of the children strip-searched were Black, meaning Black children were six times over-represented in comparison to the national population.
Alongside this ‘ethnic disproportionality’, data collected discovered that more than half of the searches occurred without an appropriate adult present – a legal requirement where the only exceptions should be when a child’s life or welfare is at risk.
Other findings of the report are as follows:
- 51% of strip searches led to no further action, a high rate of failure given the extreme nature of the action.
- 6% of strip searches took place with an officer present of the opposite gender to the child being searched.
- One in a hundred strip searches occurred in public view, with more than 45% of all cases failing to even record the location of the search
Dame Rachel was prompted to request the data from Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police, following the case of Child Q, a 15-year-old schoolgirl who was strip-searched by police officers in 2020 on suspicion of carrying cannabis. The search was conducted while she was on her period without an appropriate adult present, sparking public outrage.
Although 39 police forces across England and Wales provided figures with regard to the strip searches of children, five have failed to comply.
“This is state-sanctioned child abuse operating outside the law,”commented Deborah Cole, the director of the state accountability campaign INGUEST.
“Strip searches are deeply harmful and dehumanising and inflict fear and humiliation. The extent of searches on Black children reveals once again how racism is institutionalised in police culture, policy and practice. This abusive and abhorrent practice must end.”
Dame Rachel’s report follows Baroness Casey’s review of the Metropolitan Police released earlier this March, which condemned the force as ‘institutionally racist, misogynist, and homophobic’.
The 363-page report, which looked at the standards of behaviour and culture of the Met, not only highlighted the ‘significant racial disproportionality’ in the strip searches of children by police but also revealed shocking cases within the police force. For example, how freezer breakdowns during last summer’s heatwave, resulted in evidence being destroyed and a subsequent case of alleged rape being dropped.
Instances of a bullying culture within the force and discrimination baked into the system have also been disclosed. The report describes cases of a Muslim officer finding bacon in his boots and other so-called ‘initiation rituals’ such as people being urinated on.