Criminal Justice

The racialised harm of police strip searches: a response from the Runnymede Trust to a Home Office consultation

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The racialised harm of police strip searches

Runnymede Trust analysis of new Home Office strip search data shows that Black people are disproportionately strip searched by nearly all police forces in England and Wales. Black children are 6.5 times more likely than white children, and Black adults 4.7 times more likely than white adults, to be strip searched by police.

This new data comes alongside a Home Office consultation on the use of strip search against minors. This follows the abhorrent strip search of Child Q, a Black girl who was strip searched while on her period in her school in Hackney, east London, without an appropriate adult present, after being wrongly accused of smelling of cannabis.

In its analysis of the data, we found that:

  • In London, Black children are 5.3 times more likely than white children, and Black adults 3.5 times more likely than white adults, to be strip searched by police.
  • Nearly half (47.7 per cent) of strip searches carried out on children in London are on Black children, despite only making up 16.9 per cent of London’s child population. 
  • The Metropolitan Police conducted around a third of strip searches in England and Wales in the year to March 2023. 
  • In Sussex, a Black person is 18 times more likely to be subject to a strip search than a white person. In our analysis, we found ten police forces that strip search Black people at a rate ten times higher than white people.

We evidence the disproportionate, racialised harm caused by strip searches, which can be traumatic and humiliating, particularly for children, with long lasting effects such as anxiety, depression and lower educational attainment. As an organisation we call for police powers to strip search minors to be immediately revoked. 

Evidence shows that tackling the wider socio-economic determinants of harm in society, including tackling poverty, inequality, poor quality housing, failing education systems and increasing access to social provisions such as food, welfare and childcare, are much more effective in reducing harm in society than ‘tough on crime’ policies, such as strip search.

We advocates for a societal reorientation to address the root causes of criminalised behaviour, away from discriminatory systems and institutions. This includes meaningful investment in community-led projects which aim to reduce harm through healthcare, education and accessible early years and youth service provision. These measures need to be designed in fundamentally new ways, so as not to replicate the harmful, discriminatory, practices present in many of our other institutions.

Dr Shabna Begum, our CEO, said:
“Strip searches are inherently violent, humiliating and harmful, especially for children. As the general election looms, we cannot continue to be told by politicians across the political spectrum that so-called ‘tough on crime’ policies are the solution to social problems. Strip searching is such an invasive procedure, and when deployed with this level of racialised disproportionality, the harm reaches way beyond the individual child or person.  If we actually want to build safer communities and safeguard our children, we need to invest in our social infrastructure and ensure people have the opportunities and resources to thrive and flourish.”

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