Black girls three times more likely to undergo invasive strip-search by Met police

  • london
  • April 6, 2023
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Black girls are almost three times more likely than their white counterparts to be subjected by the Met police to the most invasive form of strip-search, figures suggest.

Between 2017 and 2022, 110 female children and teenagers were subjected to strip-searches in which their intimate parts were exposed, according to data obtained via freedom of information requests and analysed by Liberty Investigates. Disproportionately, almost half (47%) of those subjected to these strip-searches were Black.

The data distinguishes between strip-searches which are less invasive, and those where the person’s intimate parts are exposed. Across both types of strip-search for female children and teens up to the age of 19, 45% of people searched were Black.

Across all women and girls, 36% of both types of strip-search were of Black people.

The findings come after a report by the children’s commissioner found that Black children were 11 times more likely than their white peers to be selected by officers to be strip-searched.

Strip-searches graph

Shenna Darcheville, the youth voice lead and research coordinator at the police monitoring organisation StopWatch, said the disproportionality was 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 added: “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”.

Young people have told StopWatch they were strip-searched without an appropriate adult present, subjected to aggressive use of force, denied access to sanitary products while in custody, and 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% resulted in no further action being taken, suggesting many did not help to prevent or prosecute a crime.

These findings come a year after Child Q, a 15-year-old Black schoolgirl, was strip-searched exposing intimate parts by Met officers in 2020 after she was wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis at her east London school.

The data analysed by Liberty Investigates also reveals 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.

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Diane Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said the data was “truly shocking”.

She added: “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 report by Dame Rachel de Souza, children’s commissioner, 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.