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Criminal Justice

New research suggests widespread use of face-down restraint against vulnerable women and girls


Vulnerable women and girls are being repeatedly restrained in the face-down position in mental health units, according to new figures from Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk, which is part funded by the Barrow Cadbury Trust.

The research found that girls admitted to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in England were more likely to be restrained face-down than boys.

Adult women patients were more likely than men to be repeatedly restrained face-down.

The findings also show that other forms of physical restraint were widespread – with one in five women and girls having been restrained. In some trusts this figure was as high as three quarters.

This is despite the fact that more than half of women who have mental health problems have experienced abuse. So not only is being restrained frightening and humiliating it also risks re-traumatising women and girls.

Agenda is today calling for an end to the use of face-down restraint, which can also be physically dangerous, and for other forms of restraint to only ever be a last resort.

The alliance instead wants women and girls’ particular needs, including their history of trauma, taken into account in mental health services.

The alliance’s research – as part of its Women in Mind mental health campaign – showed that:

  • Girls were restrained face-down more than boys (180 girls – or 8.1 per cent of female patients – versus 72 boys, just 5.7 per cent of male patients).
  • Girls were restrained face-down nearly 2,300 times, compared with fewer than 300 incidents of boys being restrained in this way.
  • Girls were more likely to be restrained face-down repeatedly – with some trusts reporting an average of more than a dozen face-down restraints per female patient.
  • In adult services, more than 6 per cent of women (nearly 2,000) were restrained face-down more than 4,000 times.

These figures also exposed the huge regional variations in the use of face-down restraint, with some trusts using it very little or not at all, while some used both physical and face-down restraint on a regular basis.

Read the full report