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On March 14th, 2022, a report was made public detailing the horrifying experience of a Black British school girl. The 15-year-old student, known as Child Q (to protect her identity), experienced harm at the hands of Metropolitan Police officers and teachers at a school in Hackney, London in December 2020.
Child Q was mistakenly accused of having drugs. As a result, an intrusive and humiliating search which involved her having to spread her legs and removing her sanitary pad while menstruating was carried out.
This demeaning breach of Child Q’s rights and invasion of her body autonomy highlights the failure of professionals who were supposed to keep her safe, not cause harm. This traumatic experience has led Child Q to seek therapy and self harm. What happened to Child Q was due to adultification and misogynoir biases, the result of anti-Black racism.
It is imperative that all professionals are held accountable for their actions.
Teachers at Child Q’s school wrongly accused her of having cannabis. They called the police, who then arrived and conducted a strip search of the student without adult supervision. This was extremely traumatising and embarrassing for Child Q, as not only was she striped searched but made to expose intimate parts of her body while menstruating and was not even allowed to use the toilet.
Child Q’s parents were not present or told of the strip search and did not give consent for it to take place. Also, the Safer Schools Officer was not told beforehand, and no appropriate adult was present during the search, including no teachers, parents, or representatives from social services.
No drugs were found on Child Q during the strip search or when the room she was waiting in was searched.
Regardless of whether drugs were found or not during the strip search, the manner in which Child Q was treated was unacceptable and a clear violation of her basic human rights and dignity.
Adultification is the perception and treatment of Black children as if they are adults. Preconceived notions and biases lead to negative stereotypes, discriminatory expectations, and the characterisation of Black children as being “adult-like” and “less innocent” compared to their peers. The issue of adultification bias in schools is a huge concern.
This biased treatment causes significant harm to their academic and mental wellbeing, leading to a higher likelihood of disciplinary actions and negative outcomes beyond the classroom.
Adultification bias in schools and police need to be addressed and eliminated to create a more equitable and supportive learning environment for all students.
The systemic discrimination faced by Black British girls in education is a disturbing reality that demands immediate attention.
What happened to Child Q highlights the intersectional nature of this discrimination, as her experiences were shaped not only by her race but also her gender.
The persistent and harmful stereotypes of Black girls as “strong” and “angry” contribute to a societal belief that Black girls require less protection and nurturing, leading to unequal treatment and harsher punishments in comparison to their peers.
Data obtained through a freedom of information request by Agenda, an alliance of over 50 charities advocating for excluded women and girls, showed that Black British girls face a significantly higher risk of being excluded from school, with rates twice those of White British girls during the 2019-2020 academic year.
This highlights the need for action to address the systemic discrimination faced by Black British girls in education.
The public review sheds light on the views and feelings of Child Q:
“Someone walked into the 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.”
“I don’t know if I’m going to feel normal again. I don’t know how long it will take to repair my box. But I do know this can’t happen to anyone, ever again.” “All the people that allowed this to happen need to be held responsible. I was held responsible for a smell.”
“…… I need to know that the people who have done this to me can’t do it to anyone else ever again. In fact so NO ONE else can do this to any other child in their care.”
“Things need to change with all organisations involved. Even I can see that.”
Child Q confided in her mother about the distressing incident, which led her mother to take her to the family doctor for a referral for mental health support. This led to the involvement of Hackney Children and Families Services (Hackney CFS).
The public review includes the following views of Child Q’s:
“(Professionals) treated her as an adult. (She was) searched as an adult.”
“…the incident that happened (was) treated not as a safeguarding issue. (It was) treated as a criminal matter.”