The strip-search of Child Q, which was done by female police officers, was touched off when teachers said they smelled cannabis on her, but the officers did not report uncovering cannabis or any other illegal substance. Nevertheless, the experience was so distressing for Child Q, who had been menstruating at the time, that she was referred for psychological support.
A review of the case by a local commissioner charged with safeguarding children that was published in March found that the decision to strip-search the girl “was insufficiently attuned to her best interests or right to privacy,” and concluded that racism had influenced the decision. The repercussions on Child Q’s emotional health, it said, were profound and ongoing.
Local officials at the time called the findings appalling, said they were committed to working on antiracism policies and called for policing authorities to improve guidance about the proper ways to search children.
Since then, police officers in the east London borough where Child Q was searched have undergone training to combat racial bias in an effort to prevent them from treating Black children as adults.
Given that the London police carry out a total of about 200,000 “stop and searches” a year, the 650 children who were strip-searched in those three years was comparatively small, said Matt Ashby, a lecturer in crime science at University College London.
Still, given that such searches are traumatic for children, even if done according to protocol, it is imperative that the police perform them only when necessary, Mr. Ashby said.