Black girls nearly three times more likely to be subjected to most invasive strip-search

The Met Police have been criticised over the use of strip-searches including on Child Q, a 15-year-old girl. Image: Alamy

Metropolitan Police officers walking a beat on patrol in Fulham, London
Black people make up nearly half of all Met Police strip-searches of female children and teenagers

Reports Mirren Gidda for Liberty Investigates and Tobi Thomas for the Guardian. Edited by Eleanor Rose, Liberty Investigates editor


Black female children are 2.7 times more likely than their white counterparts to be subjected by the Met Police to the most invasive form of strip-search, new figures suggest.

According to data obtained via Freedom of Information requests and analysed by Liberty Investigates, 110 female children and teenagers were strip-searched from 2017 to 2022 with intimate parts exposed. Fifty two of them, or 47 percent, were Black, while London’s population of Black females up to 19 years old stands at 17.5 percent.

Racial disproportionality runs throughout the Met’s stop-and-searches of both adults and children recorded by the force as female. Across the six-year period, 28 percent of more than 90,000 stop-and-searches of females of any age, including strip-searches, were of Black females.

The disproportionality worsens for strip searches, particularly of female children and teens. The data distinguishes between strip searches where officers remove a person’s clothing but keep intimate parts covered, and those where the person’s intimate parts are exposed.

Across both types of strip-search of all female age groups, 36 percent of people searched were Black. For children and teenagers up to the age of 19, 45 percent of both types of strip search were of Black people.

47% of all Met strip-searches of female children and teens were of Black people

Shenna Darcheville, Youth Voice Lead and Research Coordinator at the police monitoring organisation StopWatch, said the disproportionality is attributable to the “adultification” of young Black girls, in which some officers fail to see them as children.

“A full strip-search is absolutely horrific,” said Darcheville. “You’ve got hands in places where they shouldn’t be, have probably never been before. You’re frightened… The impact of that is totally devastating.”

Children and young people have reported to Darcheville, who is running a research project on stop and search, that they felt “violated” and “sexually abused” by strip-searches, she said.

“I know to the police it’s just a tool in their everyday job that they use, but to the young people that they use it on, it has far-reaching and long-lasting effects,” she said.

Some have spoken of being strip-searched without an appropriate adult present, subjected to aggressive use of force, and denied access to sanitary products while in custody, according StopWatch. Others said they were released from police stations in the middle of the night without knowing how to safely get home.

Of all the stop and searches Liberty Investigates analysed, 75 percent resulted in no further action being taken, suggesting many may come to nothing in terms of preventing or prosecuting crime.

The findings come a year after a wave of heavy criticism of the Met over their strip-search of Child Q, a Black 15-year-old. After her teachers reported they could smell cannabis on her on 3 December 2020, police officers carried out a strip-search exposing intimate parts in her school’s medical room.

No appropriate adult was present for the procedure, which was described in a safeguarding review published on 14 March 2022 as “disproportionate and ultimately harmful”.

Child Q told the City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership, which carried out the review, that the search left her deeply traumatised. “I can’t go a single day without wanting to scream, shout, cry or just give up,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m going to feel normal again. I don’t know how long it will take … But I do know this can’t happen to anyone, ever again.”

Three days after the review was published, the Metropolitan Police issued a statement apologising to Child Q and her family. It said it was “in full agreement with the Safeguarding Review that this incident should never have happened.”

The data analysed by Liberty Investigates shows that in 2021 and 2022, after the search of Child Q took place, the Met carried out 54 strip searches on female children and teenagers. Three of these were of children aged between 10 and 14 years.

"It should also be the final nail in the coffin of the reputation of the Metropolitan Police, which should be disbanded"

Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Koshka Duff, a lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Nottingham, was violently strip searched by Metropolitan Police officers in 2013 when she was a 24-year-old student. Duff had handed a legal advice card to a 15-year-old being stopped-and-searched by the force and subsequently found herself targeted.

Officers took Duff to Stoke Newington police station where she refused to cooperate. The officer in charge of custody told staff to “treat her like a terrorist” and in response, three officers took her handcuffed into a cell, applied leg restraints, and cut her clothes off with scissors.

Duff was left with visible injuries on her wrists and arms. It took eight years for the force to issue her with a partial apology.

Duff said: “It’s horrifying that this form of sexual violence is being used against young people including children. The testimony of young people who have been subjected to this shows what a long-lasting trauma it can inflict, not just on the individual child but on their family and their community.

“Knowing that this happens to your friend, to your classmates, that it could happen to you any moment at the whim of a police officer – that trickles into the day-to-day psychology of the marginalised communities that are targeted. It gives young people the message that they are not worthy of treatment as full human beings, that they are not a part of the public.”

After the Child Q case took place, the Met strip-searched 54 children and teens in 2021 and 2022

Presented with the findings, Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington where both Child Q and Duff were strip-searched, said: “These data are truly shocking. But they are not wholly surprising to many of us who have been campaigning on this for some time.

“Although the government remains in denial on this issue, it is also compelling evidence of blatant racist discrimination, especially as we know that in most cases there is no evidence of any criminal activity at all.

“It should also be the final nail in the coffin of the reputation of the Metropolitan Police, which should be disbanded and re-established on a much better basis.”

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: “We welcome the [recent] report by Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner [on strip-searches of children], and were pleased to have played a part in her research. We fully acknowledge that we have overused this type of search.

“We have been making significant efforts to ensure the use of this tactic is absolutely appropriate in all circumstances and that our approach puts the child at the heart of decision making, with safeguarding of that child the absolute priority. This has resulted in a considerable reduction in the number of searches being carried out.”

This investigation was published in partnership with the Guardian and Channel 4 News.