In an op-ed for Dazed, Black Lives Matter UK share their take on the Child Q case, and what they want to happen next
In the past five years, 172,039 people have been subject to strip-searches by the Metropolitan Police while in custody, and 9,088 were carried out on children. 2,360 of these searches were on children under the age of 15. These statistics, which have left us astonished, do not cover strip-searches in schools – such as that experienced by ‘Child Q’, a 15-year-old Hackney schoolchild who was removed from an exam and stripped by police, because her teachers thought she smelled of weed. In the subsequent safeguarding report, which was released this week, each detail of the case is worse than the last: the child was on her period when she was searched, she was asked to remove her sanitary towel and expose her private parts, she wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom despite multiple requests, and no ‘appropriate adult’ (for example, a teacher) was in attendance during the search.
The individual trauma caused by incidents like this cannot be understated, and it’s important that steps are taken to address the significant harm that has already been caused. This incident took place in 2020, and two years on, Child Q is reportedly ”a changed person”, struggling with eating, panic attacks and self-harm. Child Q writes in the safeguarding report: “I can’t go a single day without wanting to scream, shout, cry or just give up... I feel like I’m locked in a box, and no one can see or cares that I just want to go back to feeling safe again, my box is collapsing around me, and no-one wants to help.”
In the interest of aftercare, we demand to know what will be done in terms of support for Child Q and her family. Simultaneously, to understand how this incident came about, we must look at the bigger picture. This case, while being predominately framed as a safeguarding failure, exposes a number of disturbing issues relating to institutional racism, criminalisation of young Black people, and the normalisation of sexual violence within policing.
It is easy for politicians and the police to cast this incident as an unfortunate one-off in a police force that is otherwise keeping our communities safe. This is a gross misrepresentation of what the police do, and whose interests they protect. Racial and gendered violence – including towards children – is the police's modus operandi. Over a third of total strip-searches by the Met in the last five years were conducted on people from ethnic minorities, with the figure appearing to be even higher in east London. It is also well known that Black people in England and Wales are nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. This affects tens of thousands of young people, but also includes children under the age of ten.
Then there are the chilling stories. Last year, a report revealed that unnamed police officers had exchanged jokes about raping women and killing Black babies. The public has also become more aware of police racism and misogyny through recent cases like that of Sarah Everard, who was raped and murdered by a police officer, and Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, whose dead bodies were inappropriately photographed by police and circulated on WhatsApp. All of this takes place in a climate in which the government is calling for more police funding, more police in schools in deprived areas, and is pushing through a policing bill that encourages more overlap between schools and incarceration.
”Black children are not seen as innocent, vulnerable and in need of protection and safeguarding. They deserve better”
The Child Q safeguarding report has recommended changes to process. Meanwhile, politicians have called for “heads to roll”. But neither of these changes will prevent incidents like this from happening again. Steps must be abolitionist in nature to truly address the deep-rooted nature of police racism and misogyny, which, as demonstrated by this case, takes aim at the most marginalised and powerless. In 2020, we gave funding to the Northern Police Monitoring Project, which is currently leading the ‘No Police in Schools’ campaign with Kids of Colour. The project grew out of young people’s concerns that they were being increasingly criminalised in spaces of education, and centres their calls for the removal of police from schools. They know as well as we do that police do not keep us safe – we keep us safe. This is why BLMUK also calls for divestment from policing, with funds distributed to local communities who know what they need.
In our work, we have seen time and time again that when you’re Black, you don’t have the same expectation to be safe. Black children are not seen as innocent, vulnerable and in need of protection and safeguarding. They deserve better than to be traumatised in the spaces that should nurture them, and then sent home alone. We are tired of the endless reports, apologies and promises to do better in the future. We are tired of ‘lessons learned’ at our expense. Now is the time for radical change, that takes power out of the hands of the police and puts it back into our communities. In the words of 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... I need to know that the people who have done this to me can’t do it to anyone else ever again.”
Black Lives Matter UK would like to explicitly extend our support to Child Q and her family, who can contact us directly at any point while maintaining confidentiality, at: email@example.com