I have been working in the youth sector for over 20 years and am not easily shocked.
But I am truly stunned and sickened by the news that I read yesterday, that there have been 43,960 strip-searches of young people in custody, in a mere 21 months.
This is institutionalised child abuse on an industrial scale.
Lets dig into the numbers (that have come from a FOI request) and were reported in the Guardian here.
- 21 months is approximately 638 days.
- That works out to on average, 69 young people strip-searched every day. Or about 3 every hour, every day of the year.
- Astonishingly, only .0001% of searches unearthed any illicit items at all – that is one time every 1000 strip-searches
- To put this into perspective…I have seen it reported that Ladbrokes have odds of 500/1 that Tony Blair will be the next Pope so bookies would rate us having Pope Tony as being twice as likely as a strip search unearthing anything illicit.
- In only .0008% of the searches was any contraband at all (usually tobacco) found.
- On not one time was it recorded that drugs or knives were found
- On 50 occasions physical force was used to conduct the search. This is getting right into the territory of violent sexual assault.
This is appalling. It must be stopped. Right now.
I believe the following 3 measures ought to be immediately put in place:
1. Rules governing the use of strip-searches need to be made so restrictive that unless there is a very clear, and extremely significant danger (that would warrant the invasion of privacy and emotional abuse that results from strip searches) that they cannot be conducted.
2. Any child who is subjected to a strip search ought to have the right to sue for damages if the situation did not warrant such extreme action. Looking for contraband or tobacco can never, ever be a justification for child abuse.
3. Any staff member who conducts an unwarranted strip search should lose their job and be never allowed to work with young people again.
I have trained and led crisis intervention teams working with some of the most challenging young people in our country and I am a qualified restraint training instructor. I have never ever thought it necessary to conduct a strip search – I have never even considered conducting such a search. In order to decide to put my hands on a young person I need to feel very sure that if I didn’t do so, that there was a significant danger they would be about to seriously hurt themselves or another person, or to dangerously damage property.
It is without doubt that subjecting anyone, and particular a vulnerable young person, to an intimate body search must be an even more extraordinary event that could only be acceptable in the very most extreme and unusual circumstances.
Finally I hope that the full data set from the FOI is released and that a thorough inquiry is launched to see if (as I fear may be the case) this may have in some cases gone beyond awful practice into deliberate abuse, and whether there are grounds for prosecution against any of the people who have been conducting these searches. The inquiry should obviously begin with speaking with all of the young people who have been subjected to strip searches and that support for them should be made available as needed. This is a massive child protection situation and it needs to be dealt with accordingly.