County lines grooming is growing
The number of children groomed into county lines - the trafficking of drugs across counties - is increasing. It is estimated that phone lines associated to drug deals has almost tripled in the past year. Here we look at the changing tactics of exploitation during a pandemic.
Drug markets don't just disappear. Even though we've been in lockdown for a lot of the past year, children are still being exploited to traffic and sell drugs. The tactics may be changing but exploitation hasn't stopped.
Our project workers say that illegal raves and recreational drug use has actually increased in some areas, so there's more pressure on young people to supply.
To avoid being seen, criminal groups are dressing young people as takeaway drivers and healthcare workers. There were even reports in Merseyside of criminal groups operating a 'click and collect' service for couriers disguised as key workers. These new methods are making it even more difficult to control an already widespread problem.
county lines facts 2020
increase in drug arrests in London since the start of lockdown
increase in children referred for support by councils in relation to modern slavery
helping children that have been exploited
Before the pandemic, perpetrators might target children who were alone and about during school hours, or hanging around local shops after school.
Now, with many schools and businesses closed, grooming has moved more online. It’s the same principle though. An older person will befriend a young person – in the real world they might buy them food or trainers, online it could be tokens or upgrades. The child trusts them but is indebted and controlled by their exploiter.
With more children playing online games, using social media, and relying on messaging apps to chat with friends, the numbers of those at risk of exploitation are far greater.
Our project workers go on police operations and and are able to start a dialogue with children found at trap houses and crime scenes. We let a child know that we’re not the police and we’re not social services and the child or parent then engages with us much more quickly.
We are able to respond to the child early so they understand what’s going on and aren’t simply arrested and defined as a criminal. We want these children to receive the support they need to build a brighter future.