‘I felt violated’: The humiliating reality of being strip-searched, by those who have gone through it 3 months ago

‘I felt violated’: The humiliating reality of being strip-searched, by those who have gone through it

'I didn’t want to break down, but I was just frozen in fear and pain'

Lloyd* reckons he’s been strip-searched six times. He’s 28 years old now, but the first time it happened, he was just 18. Lloyd was trying to get into his house after forgetting his keys, and a suspicion of him breaking in turned into a search, then a strip search.

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Lloyd’s most recent strip search was in January. He was out with a female friend in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. The friend, who is white, was stopped outside a nightclub when bouncers found drugs on her. “They tell us we have to leave and I was like ‘cool, that’s fine,’ so we left the club and walked round the corner to McDonald’s. Then police come up to us and say, ‘Oh, you got kicked out of that nightclub for drugs. So we're gonna have to search you'.”

"They even handed my white friend a victim card"

Thames Valley Police did a standard search on Lloyd and his friend, which involves pocket searches and a pat-down - the most police can ask is for shoes and jackets to be removed. Despite no drugs being found on Lloyd, he was taken into custody and strip-searched - his friend was not. She was then given a “victim card” and asked if Lloyd had made her carry the drugs, or if she was carrying them under duress. 

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“I felt violated. When I’m in the cell, there’s three guys in the room, and they’re telling you to take your top half off, then put that back on, then take the bottom half off, then bend over and cough and squat - it’s embarrassing, it’s humiliating," Lloyd recalls. 

Credit: Guy Smallman/Getty

Habib Kadiri, research and policy manager at StopWatch, a charity that calls for fair and accountable policing, says: “Strip searches shouldn't be used as an extension of a search just when you can't find anything. It’s just an extension of that abuse of power.” This was the justification used in the case of the schoolgirl, later known as ‘Child Q’. The 15-year-old was pulled from class on the suspicion of smelling of cannabis earlier this month and intimately searched by two police officers, and even made to remove her sanitary pad, in a case branded ‘racist’, ‘unlawful’, and ‘deeply distressing’. 

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The Met said on Tuesday that it is reviewing the policies that allowed the search to take place, following a review last week by City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP). The Independent Office for Police Conduct also launched an investigation following a complaint in May 2021, and is currently finalising its report.

"You tend not to trust police officers at all"

Lloyd believes he’s been strip-searched so many times because he's Black. Statistics obtained by University of Nottingham criminology researcher Tom Kemp, show that 33.5 per cent of all strip searches in the past five years (2016-2021) were on Black people, despite the fact that only 11.7 per cent of Londoners are Black. “Emotionally, it does get dragging,” Lloyd admits, “and you tend not to trust police officers at all. If they’re having a bad day, it’s you they’re going to take it out on. And I try to be overly friendly, but I shouldn’t have to do that, I shouldn’t have to change myself.”

For Lloyd, this learned behaviour dates back to his first strip search, but police misusing their powers and disproportionately targeting people of colour has been an issue for decades. The Brixton riots in 1981 were sparked by outrage over stop and searches targeting the Black London community and led to campaigns to change the law that justified searches. 

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The law - then known as the “Sus Law” was repealed months after the riots, but replaced with a new one, which sits within the   Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE). It originally required “reasonable suspicion” for a search but now section 60 of the act grants emergency powers to police to search even without suspicion.

And then one-morning last week, Lloyd heard about Child Q, after the story came to light because of the CHSCP review. “I woke up listening to it. It’s deep because I know how that feels. She’s gonna remember that for the rest of her life.”

According to statements from Child Q's family, she is now self-harming and has begun therapy for her trauma. Someone who understands this trauma intimately well is Dr Koshka Duff, whose 2013 strip search experience was reported on in January after the Met Police apologised for “sexist” and “derogatory” language used during the encounter. This included a moment caught on CCTV where officers mention a smell, and another replies “Oh, it’s her knickers.”

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Credit: Dr Koshka Duff

Koshka, who is a Professor of Philosophy at Nottingham University and has written a book on abolishing the police, was strip-searched after handing a “Know Your Rights” legal advice card to a Black 15-year-old boy she saw being arrested in London.

“They were carrying me into the cell [...] they were saying ‘get the leg restraints, get the scissors,’ they were all over me," she recalls, adding: "I was in a lot of pain from the handcuffs, which they were jerking around behind my back.”

The officers even joked about cutting her earring out of her ear when they couldn’t remove it. “I didn’t want to break down, but I was just frozen in fear and pain at that point."

Koshka complained and so has Lloyd. Lloyd is still waiting for Thames Valley Police to respond. The force has acknowledged the complaint to JOE. In November 2021, the Met "sincerely and unreservedly apologised" to Koshka, but it did little to change her feelings, "their apology was nothing more than a PR exercise".

Habib agrees that these apologies often just feel like empty words. "It's all very well, the Met apologising now. But it should never have happened in the first place."

Lloyd's name has been changed to protect his anonymity.

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