Metropolitan Police confirms supplying or wearing a chest binder is not child abuse

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The Metropolitan Police has confirmed that supplying or wearing a chest binder is not a criminal offence after The Telegraph published a controversial article on the subject.

On Tuesday (27 September), The Telegraph published an article questioning whether wearing or supplying a chest binder – a common practice for some trans and non-binary people – could be considered child abuse.

The article referenced a page on the Metropolitan Police’s website on chest ironing, a practice that’s widely regarded as abusive and is most often inflicted on young girls in parts of Africa.

In its article, The Telegraph quoted a university professor who questioned why chest binding wasn’t considered child abuse when breast ironing was.

The Met issued a statement on Thursday (29 September) clarifying that wearing or supplying a chest binder is not a criminal offence. The force said it supports trans and gender diverse people who “freely choose” to wear a binder.

‘Not a criminal offence’

“The supply of a breast binder is not a criminal offence,” a spokesperson for the Met said.

“The Met support transgender and gender diverse individuals who freely choose to wear a breast binder.

“If an individual case regarding the practice of breast ironing, or the use of a breast binder is reported to police, it may be assessed jointly with social services. The same approach would be taken regardless of culture, faith or community to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the individual concerned.”

They continued: “We would like to reassure any individual who chooses to wear a binder is not committing a criminal offence.”

Breast ironing very different from chest binding

According to the National FGM Centre, young girls are sometimes subjected to the practice of breast ironing in parts of Africa in an effort to prevent pregnancy and rape and deter unwanted attention from men.

“In some families, large stones, a hammer or spatula that have been heated over scorched coals can be used to compress the breast tissue,” the National FGM Centre says.

“Other families may use an elastic belt or binder to press the breasts so as to prevent them from growing.”

That’s echoed by Childline, which says chest ironing – or flattening, as it’s also called – is used to “flatten” breasts to delay development.

The charity explicitly states on its website: “This is different from choosing to bind your breasts.”

Childline says some young people use binders to hide parts of their bodies that make them uncomfortable. The children’s charity links readers to a section on gender identity where they can access supports.

Binder attacks are ‘nonsense’

The furore erupted when The Telegraph published an earlier article about chest binding which concerned trans kids’ charity Mermaids.

That article claimed Mermaids was giving binders to children behind their parents’ backs – the report was based on an email exchange between an adult pretending to be a 14-year-old trans boy and a staff member at the charity.

That led to outcry on social media from anti-trans campaigners, with many asking why wearing or supplying a chest binder is not considered child abuse when breast ironing is.

Many pointed out in response that voluntarily wearing a chest binder, which is completely safe when done correctly, is not the same thing as breast ironing – the latter practice is widely regarded as abusive and can cause long-term harm to a child.

The Telegraph subsequently published its follow-up piece in which it questioned whether supplying or wearing a chest binder could be seen as child abuse based on a page on the Met’s website.

That article was described as “nonsense” by trans charity Gendered Intelligence.