Evidence to the Home Office Consultation on Police strip search of children from Women Against Rape and Women of Colour GWS

We call for an end to police strip searching of all children under the age of 18, in police custody or schools or anywhere else – it’s state child abuse.

1. Police should not have the power to strip search children
Since the murder of Sarah Everard and the obscene police selfies taken with the bodies of murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, and the jailing of serving Met police officer David Carrick for multiple rapes, a women’s movement – which had been demanding justice against rape and domestic violence for decades – has exploded into public protest. The public outcry includes women officers, wives and partners of male officers who were also sexually harassed, assaulted, and threatened with having their children taken from
them if they spoke out.

In 2023 the Met police was found by Baroness Casey to be institutionally racist, sexist and homophobic. Other police forces have also been in special measures for similar issues. How can the Home Office still propose that officers should have powers to strip search children or any other category of vulnerable people?

Since the Black Lives Matter movement, women are also calling out other institutional police violence and illegality – racism, homophobia, ableism, class prejudice, corruption… – which affect first of all those of us who are women or children of colour and/or asylum seekers and/or disabled and/or queer/trans and/or sex workers and/or in mixed race families… We build on years of our anti-sexist, anti-racist campaigning. This includes campaigns, often mainly by women, demanding justice for loved ones who were abused, killed or raped by police, including in police custody.

2. No place for police in schools
Now that the spotlight is on cases of police illegality and abuse of power, more and more officers placed in schools have been accused or convicted of sexual relationships with children and abusing their position of authority to target victims.
Police are increasingly embedded in schools, despite widespread opposition by young people, parents, teachers and communities concerned about young people, especially young people of colour, being criminalised. A campaign by Kids of Colour succeeded in getting officers pulled out of Manchester schools. This should be replicated across the country.

3. Police impunity for sexist, racist… and other criminal conduct continues
There has been no adequate official response to the mass rape and trafficking of teenage girls exposed in 2013 all over the country, which police officers and social workers enabled. Many of the victims lived in care homes, in towns and cities around the country: Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford, Jersey, Shirley Oaks in London... Instead of sacking and prosecuting those officers who facilitated this abuse, such officers have continued to enjoy impunity and more unaccountable powers over vulnerable children and women. This includes the extra powers in a raft of repressive laws introduced by the current government, such as the Police Crime
Courts and Sentencing Act, the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Act (nicknamed ‘Spy Cops’) etc.

4. The facts are shocking and speak for themselves
Following public protests about the strip search of Child Q in 2020, the Children’s
Commissioner in 2021 and 2023 reported on the widespread strip searching of children by officers in the Met and later across England and Wales, using police figures. Her findings were shocking, and revealing:
- Children as young as eight had been strip searched
- 51% of searches resulted in no further action taken
- 52% of searches happened with no appropriate adult present
- Black children in England and Wales were up to 6 times more likely to be strip
searched when compared to national population figures. This is a racist abuse of
power by the police.
The figures show that this practice is completely unjustified and racist. Mothers of colour in our networks have told us about their children’s experiences of strip searching by police and how traumatic and humiliating it has been. Many fear their child will never recover.

5. Why the proposed Home Office changes to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) will not protect children:
1. The sexist, racist and dehumanising strip search of 15-year-old Child Q exposed to the public what an abusive practice strip searching by the police is and how she was and remains extremely traumatised. The school had called the police after someone suspected they smelt cannabis in her hair. Nothing was found. Even if the police had had the permission of an inspector and informed her parents afterwards (as the Home Office now proposes) Child Q would still have suffered this horrific and deeply humiliating abuse. These proposals are unlikely to stop the practice, when it is policy to do it. Why does the Home Office think it’s ok for police to have this abusive power at all?

2. There are no specified sanctions for police officers if they ignore these new proposals.
The four officers who strip searched Child Q should have been sacked.

3. Having an ‘appropriate adult’ present is no protection when professionals regularly collude with the police against children. It can’t be a teacher or any other professional as there have been many cases where children have been abused by these professionals. The recent case of organized abuse of disabled children by staff at the Whitefield School
in Walthamstow is among other horrific examples.

4. A reference to the ‘potentially traumatic impact that the search may have’ in the proposed guidance is a totally ineffective protection. Strip searches must never be allowed to take place without the presence of a child’s
parent or carer.

This submission is from Women Against Rape and Women of Colour GWS 10 June 2024.

Women Against Rape is a multiracial organisation based in London with a national network.

Since 1976 it has provided support and information to women and girls suffering rape or other sexual, racist or domestic violence. It campaigns for justice, asylum, protection and compensation. It has won changes in the law such as getting rape in marriage recognised as a crime, and helped set precedents in court.

Women of Colour GWS is a network of African, Asian, Caribbean, Latina and Indigenous women in Global Women’s Strike campaigning against sexism, racism, poverty, war, apartheid and genocide, and for a free Palestine, starting with asylum seekers, migrants and immigrants. It is part of the global Black Lives Matter movement; has helped women win compensation for police violence; and win recognition that rape is a form of torture and persecution and therefore grounds for asylum.