An autistic, mixed-race 14-year-old girl has been left traumatised after police cut off her underwear during a strip search in front of male officers – once again igniting conversation around the adultification of Black children.
The teenager – whose identity has not been revealed – was handcuffed during the incident which took place in December 2020. Explaining what happened, the teen's mum told Radio 4 that she had been out with friends when they had an argument with two boys who phoned the police and claimed they had been the victims of an attempted robbery at knife-point. The teen was then searched by police at the scene and, although no weapons were found, she was arrested along with her friends.
After spending more than 20 hours in police custody, the teen was allowed to have a shower, but as she was getting changed a sharpened stick – that she had been using to self-harm – fell from her clothes. Her mum says that at this point, six officers handcuffed the teen and carried out an intimate search in the presence of male officers. Previously, she had handed police a small blade that she had also been using to self-harm.
But her mum, who was isolating with COVID-19 at the time, says she was given no prior warning that her daughter would be forcibly strip-searched. In fact, she alleges that she spoke with officers on the phone and told them that her daughter has autism and learning difficulties, as well as as a history of self-harming.
The Metropolitan Police has since confirmed it is investigating the incident.
"[She] was actually on her period at the time too. And they cut off her underwear in front of these grown male officers," the teen's mum told Radio 4. "She was absolutely distraught."
After the incident, the teen's mum said her mental health deteriorated, and she "became quite reclusive."
"She spent a lot of time in her room and she continued to self-harm in secret. And then a few weeks later, she attempted suicide," her mum said.
The 14-year-old's family are now bringing a civil case against the Metropolitan Police force, after she appeared in court accused of possession of a bladed weapon but was found not guilty with magistrates accepting that the items were used for self-harming.
"The legal guardian, the person that has responsibility for that child, needs to be informed," Lawyer Gail Hadfield Grainger, who is representing the family, said of their civil case. "The strip-search needs to be done in front of same-sex staff only, not same-sex staff with the opposite sex on-looking," she added, explaining the rules that must be followed when searching minors. "That culture is set to protect your dignity, save you from embarrassment, and to put in order exactly how these things should be done correctly."
News of the incident comes just weeks after the Met were accused of strip-searching another teenage girl – Child Q – who was also on her period at the time.
We hope that both teens are getting the care and support they need after such traumatic experiences.
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