The Racialised Harm of Police Strip Searches

The racialised harm of police strip searches – Runnymede Trust

The Runnymede trust have published a Briefing and response to a Home Office consultation on the use of strip searches against children.

The briefing considers the power alongside Home Office data in the year ending March 2023, evidencing the discriminatory and disproportionate manner in which it has been employed by police forces across the UK. 


As part of its consultation, the Home Office has proposed several measures designed to safeguard the children who are subject to this power, including adding a paragraph to the PACE codes highlighting the potential trauma that can be inflicted by a strip search and introducing a requirement to notify parents as soon as practicable after a search has taken place.

In terms of the data, the key findings in the report are as follows (page 3):

  • Black children are 6.5 times more likely than white children to be strip searched by the police. 
  • In London, they are 5.3 times more likely to be strip searched than white children, accounting for 47.7 per cent of strip searches, despite accounting for 16.9 per cent of the child population.
  • Nearly half (47.7 percent) of strip searches carried out on children in London are on black children. 
  • The Metropolitan Police conducted around a third of strip searches in England and Wales in in the year to March 2023. 

The report calls on the Home Office to end strip searches against children, arguing that the proposed new measures to safeguard the children subjected to these searches do not go far enough and fail to recognise the traumatic effect of being searched, as well as the evidenced racial disproportionality in the use of the power.


PACE states that strip searches are defined as ‘a search involving the removal of more than outer clothing’ (Code C Annex A Part B para. 9). There are two types of strip searches, “More Thorough Searches” where the removal of inner-layer clothes (for example a t-shirt) is removed but a person does not expose the intimate parts of their body and “Searches Involving Exposure of Intimate Parts of the Body” (EIP) where an individual is required to remove most or all of their clothing.

The use of strip searches against children is a longstanding police power, however, since the search of child Q, a black child who was strip-searched at school while menstruating and in the absence of an appropriate adult in 2020, there has been increased scrutiny of the power and recognition of the long-term harmful impact it can have on children. 

This report, which is the first comprehensive analysis of the Home Office data, makes clear that the use of strip-searches is highly racialised and that this racial disparity is particularly stark when it comes to black children. The data relating to London is particularly telling and tallies with other data and evidence gathered in the past 5 years as to institutional racism within the Metropolitan Police. 

Those representing children who have been strip-searched should be alive to the potentially traumatic effect of a strip-search and its impact on the child, as well as the boundaries of the power and its proper use as contained within the PACE Codes. 

The YJLC guide on trauma informed lawyering 


Written by 
Violet Smart, Doughty Street Chambers