Child Q: Can Restorative Justice help heal the harms of racism?
This is a blog by our Campaigns and Communications Manager Meka Beresford.
This week, it came to light that a 15-year-old Black school girl was strip searched, while on her period, at her school in Hackney in the middle of an exam after being accused of smelling like cannabis.
In breach of guidelines, no appropriate adult was present to oversee, and the student’s mother was not told about the search prior to it happening. Without any staff checking in with her, she was sent back to the exam after no drugs were found.
The incident took place in 2020, and now Child Q is a “shell of the bubbly child she was before the incident”. She is in regular therapy, and struggles with self-harm.
The safeguarding review, published by Hackney City Council this week, concluded that racism was at play when the incident occurred – namely, that the girl was a victim of adultification bias. This is a type of racial prejudice that sees Black children considered older than their non-Black, or white counterparts, and so are held to adult expectations.
Importantly, the review said that had Child Q not been Black, then her experiences are unlikely to have been the same.
The review findings reinforced Child Q and her family’s understanding that racism was at play during the incident. Now they await the findings by the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
But for Child Q, and others who experience violence in this manner, just having their experience acknowledged isn’t always enough. Moving forward past a life-changing incident of this manner is complicated, and it’s clear that Child Q has undergone a great deal of stress as a result.
Could Restorative Justice help? Would it be appropriate?
In instances of hate crime and sexual violence, we frequently see a sort of gatekeeping occur. Victim support officers can be reluctant to direct victims of these crimes towards RJ, usually underestimating the role that less intensive restorative interventions can play: such as an initial restorative conversation or communication with a secondary harmer.
At Why me?, we believe that Restorative Justice should be made available to everyone affected by crime. That means informing each victim and offender about Restorative Justice, and empowering them to make their own decision about the suitability of it in regards to their own case.
While there have been no criminal charges made in the case of Child Q, the opportunity to engage in a restorative process may provide a real chance to heal – to talk with those who failed to protect her, and understand why she was targeted and had her life disrupted in such an immeasurable way.
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. I feel like I’m locked in a box, and no one can see or cares that I just want to go back to feeling safe again, my box is collapsing around me, and no-one wants to help. 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. – Child Q
The safeguarding review that was published struggles to identify why Child Q was subjected to the search. Inconsistencies in the accounts of those involved mean that they were unable to explain why it happened.
Answers to these questions, and an explanation about why this happened, may help Child Q to heal, to repair.
To get answers to these questions in a restorative setting may be even more healing. To acknowledge the racism that occurred head on, and tell those involved how their actions harmed her will enable Child Q to reclaim some of the power in the situation.
To Child Q and her family, we’re so deeply sorry for what you have had to endure.
If you or someone you know is affected by this story and wishes to engage in the restorative process, get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.