The story of Child Q has emerged on the internet again in the past days. You probably already know what I’m talking about, but here’s a brief recap. In December 2020, in the London borough of Hackney, a Black schoolgirl, known as Child Q (name chosen by the media to protect her anonymity), was strip-searched by the police while on her period, after being wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis. At the time, the teachers called the police onto school premises and then allowed officers to perform the strip-search on the 15-year-old girl in a medical room, with the knowledge that she was menstruating. The search involved exposure of Child Q's intimate body parts whilst she was menstruating as she was told to remove her sanitary pad and no drugs were found. No adult was present for the traumatic search by the Met, as the teachers decided to wait outside.
The incident sparked new outrage and protests because a report released in these days has found that the search of Child Q was unjustified, and that racism was "likely" to have been a factor. The report, that is a disturbing read, added that the impact on the pupil was “profound” and stated that if the girl had not been black “then her experiences are unlikely to have been the same”.
The police have apologised and said the incident was “truly regrettable”, but many say apologies and empty words are absolutely not enough. The Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy shared on Twitter: “The Met have apologised to a child they strip-searched after wrongly suspecting her of carrying cannabis. Whilst on her period. Without an adult present. Without wholesale reform of the way the Met engages with the Black community, this apology is just reputation management.”
Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, deputy mayor and cabinet member for Hackney Council’s Children’s Services, said: “Child Q was subjected to humiliating, traumatising and utterly shocking treatment by police officers - actions that were wholly disproportionate to the alleged incident to which they had been called. This is exacerbated by the fact that the strip-search was carried out at school - a place where the child had an expectation of safety, security and care. Instead, she was let down by those who were meant to protect her.”
Wrapping our heads around the perverse degradation of this Black girl has been difficult for everyone. What happened to Child Q is a brutal example of different forms of oppression coming together to plague the life of young black girls, and has forced the UK to reckon with its attitudes towards race and its treatment of black and dark-skinned children.
One only has to look at the stats to see how racism is systemic and ingrained in our culture and institutions. There are more than 650 police officers working in British schools, most of them are assigned in areas of high deprivation, amid concerns of the disproportionate targeting of Black children. Before the Child Q case happened, a report published in January 2019 found that, in the previous year, 10,278 people were strip-searched in a 12-month period, amounting to 16% of detainees. Inspectors said the figure was “higher than we normally see”, meaning that this violence has been enacted by the state.
What is even more disturbing is the fact that those subjected to searches included “many children and a significantly higher proportion of black and minority ethnic detainees”. On the topic, British journalist Nadine White, commented: “These types of abuses are perpetrated daily against Black girls and Black women, in a society where we’re neither believed nor protected by the laws of the land and its institutions”.
In a statement, Child Q has announced she is suing the Metropolitan Police and is also taking civil action against her school. Speaking via her lawyers, she said: “Someone walked into my 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. On the top of preparing for the most important exams of my life. I can’t go a single day without wanting to scream, shout, cry or just give up.”. After thanking all those who have shown support to her, the girl said she wanted “cast-iron commitments to ensure this never happens again”.
Credit photo: GettyImages
Written by Miriam Tagini