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Photography Melissa Arras

Police brutally strip-search Black schoolgirl for ‘smelling like weed’

‘Child Q’ was forced by Met officers to expose ‘intimate body parts’ while on her period

Published today, a review from the City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership has revealed that in 2020, a Black teenager in secondary school was forcibly strip-searched by female police officers.

The girl – known only in the report as ‘Child Q’ – was forced to expose “intimate body parts” during the harrowing ordeal. She was also menstruating at the time and instructed to remove her sanitary towel. In the report, Child Q’s mother stated that her daughter was then told to “put the same dirty towel back on because they would not allow her to use the restroom to clean herself.”

Teachers wrongfully presumed the teenager had drugs in her possession because she “smelt of cannabis”. After finding “nothing of significance” following a search of her bag, scarf, shoes, and blazer, teachers called the police and four officers visited the school. Two female officers then took Child Q to the school’s medical room where they subjected her to a humiliating and traumatising strip search. Teachers remained outside the room while Child Q was put through this dehumanising experience. 

No appropriate adult was present during the search and it also took place without parental consent. Ultimately, no drugs were found on Child Q.

“Someone walked into the school, where I was supposed to feel safe, took me away from the people who were supposed to protect me and stripped me naked, while on my period,” the girl said in the report. She expressed that she didn’t know if she’d “ever feel normal again”, while the report adds that she is now self-harming and in therapy as a result of being subject to such brutality.

The report plainly highlights the fact that racism coloured the officers’ brutal handling of Child Q. “Having considered the context of the incident, the views of those engaged in the review and the impact felt by Child Q and her family, racism (whether deliberate or not) was likely to have been an influencing factor in the decision to undertake a strip search.”

But we already know. We know that the police, as an institution, is racist. How many more times do we need to be told? We know that the Met police are four times more likely to use force on Black people. We know that Black girls are persistently ‘adultified’: research shows that adults perceive Black girls as ‘less innocent’ than white girls from as young as five years old, and that adults have less empathy for them than white girls. Black girls like Child Q are being robbed of their childhoods by a system that treats them as harshly as fully-grown adults.

The report also points to the fact that six months prior to the incident, George Floyd was tragically murdered by a police officer in the USA, prompting widespread discussions about police brutality against Black people. “Valid questions have been raised about racism within the police and other agencies, the priority is given to tackling this and whether organisational commitment ever rises above the rhetoric,” the report says.

At present, “rhetoric” is all we’re getting. On Tuesday, the Met police apologised for the incident and the girl’s “truly regrettable” treatment, while Sadiq Khan described the case as “deeply disturbing” and stressed that “no child should ever have to face a situation like this.” But at this point, we need actions, not words. On Twitter, Sisters Uncut said: “The Met is beyond all reform. Abolition is the only way to stop this violent institution [...] This violence at the hands of a female officer demonstrates that there is no recruitment quota that can solve the Met's toxic and violent racism and misogyny.” They’re right.

Child Q stressed that she now “can’t go a single day without wanting to scream, shout, cry or just give up.” She continued: “I’m just a child. The main thing I need is space and time to understand what has happened to me and exactly how I feel about it and getting past this exam season.”