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A mother's fight against exploitation

When a child is exploited, their choices are taken away. Their entire future is in the balance. It affects families too. Jenny fought for a second chance for her son when he was caught carrying drugs. She now encourages other parents to learn the signs to stop this abuse from happening. This is her story.

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Change in behaviour

Robbie was a bright and thoughtful teenager. He enjoyed school and time with friends and family. But his behaviour started to change. He became distant. Jenny assumed he was just going through a difficult age. But these were actually signs of exploitation. 

It felt like I was losing my son. I didn’t know whether he was dead or alive.

First he was caught shoplifting. Then he went missing for weeks. When he got home he wouldn’t talk about it. The officers that found him suspected he was being groomed by criminals - befriended, manipulated and forced to steal. Jenny didn’t know what to do. 

‘I made the difficult decision to leave my home and eventually my job, to help my son escape the vicious circle of returning to his groomer.’ 

Losing my son

boy with rucksack outside looking away from camera

Child, not criminal

Not long after this, Robbie was found carrying drugs in another city and taken to a police station. The officers sat in front of him were charging him with intent to supply. He was silent. The men who forced him to sell drugs scared him more than prison.  

Jenny was in shock. Robbie was being charged for something he had been forced into, but he was a child who needed protection. 

‘Robbie told the police officer that he was scared and there was no way the police could ever protect him. If he talked, the men that were in charge would kill him.’ 

boots of young person on swing

What is county lines?

When children like Robbie are befriended and forced to take drugs across the country, this is known as county lines exploitation. It can happy to any child, anywhere in the UK. 

Starting a conversation

Every day was a fight to prove Robbie was innocent. Jenny says 'the stress of a court case is huge and throughout it you’re just existing.’ 

One of our therapists, Alex, helped Jenny through this difficult time. She listened. She was there when Jenny couldn’t face things alone. 

It was really refreshing to just have someone to talk to and not judge me.

‘Alex brought me out of the hole that I was in. She was so positive. She helped improve my relationship with Robbie. We communicate better and I've improved how I speak to him.’ 

Spotting the signs

woman looking out of window

'It takes me back a bit, thinking about all the signs I missed. If I had known about them, would I have caught on?'

'My son had expensive bottles of alcohol, a weed crusher and Rizla paper in his drawer and I was thinking, "where did you get these things from because I haven't given you any pocket money." Now I know, he was being groomed.'

'Before this happened, I knew absolutely nothing. I was really angry when I found out this was happening to children. There's not enough education around this and I'd say to parents, go and educate yourself.'

boy looking worried on train

Spotting the signs

Children who are being exploited respond in different ways. Some, like Robbie, become distant. Others might seem upset or say they don't need help.

It’s our job to look closer and see the child beneath. By getting to know the signs, we can help keep young people safe.’

A chance to move on 

Finally, after seven long months the judge cleared Robbie of all the charges. Fast forward to today and things are very different. Instead of years behind bars, Robbie is safe at home with his family again. He has a job and is thrilled to have passed his GCSEs. Jenny is so proud of him. 

‘He’s now taking his driving lessons and saving up for a course. He just seems so much lighter where he is now mentally. It’s so good to see that.’ 

‘Through therapy with Alex, I found myself. Not the old me, but a better me and I am learning, growing and understanding more every day.’ 

She gave me my hope back.