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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.

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Delivery disguises

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

55%

increase in drug arrests in London since the start of lockdown

807%

increase in children referred for support by councils in relation to modern slavery

helping children that have been exploited

young man holding basketball standing next to project worker

Virtual grooming

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.

young man on computer

Keeping children safe online

Young people should be able to express themselves online without worrying about strangers trying to exploit them. By knowing the signs of online exploitation and how to report them, we can keep children safe online.

Fighting back

We work to end exploitation, by connecting agencies, working with police and ensuring that children are reported missing if they’re missing from home or care.

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.