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The invisible girls of exploitation

There is a common misconception that only boys are criminally exploited. But this is not true. Any child can be groomed and forced to carry weapons or sell drugs. Stereotypes like these mean girls being criminally exploited can often go unseen.


Raising awareness

Sad girl staring out of bus window.

Hidden in plain sight

Sienna works with Abianda, a London-based service helping women who have escaped exploitation. She has lived experience of criminal groups.

'Young women are expected to behave a certain way, so we just disappear.'

‘Police don’t detect women. As a police officer you would not expect a young woman to be holding drugs or knives or stealing. No one pays attention.’

Criminals capitalise on the lack of awareness around girls in criminal groups and use it to their advantage. Young women can smuggle goods more easily because police are less likely to look out for them. They feel invisible.

A lack of understanding

Without recognition by police or professionals, many young women struggle to reach out and build the trust needed to break free.

I was never understood by professionals, so I’ve seen it first hand. We are not understood at all.

boots of young person on swing

What is county lines?

Any child can be groomed and forced to carry drugs across counties. This is county lines exploitation and it is more prevalent in the UK than you might think. 

Masks of affection

When a girl or young woman is targeted by criminal groups it can often involve sexual exploitation. The relationship they build feels real. This makes it difficult for them to realise they are being manipulated.

'Some women don’t see it. They get given gifts and taken out because their boyfriend or their friend has all the money. Others don’t want to believe it.'

Working in a different way

Working in a different way

Young girls need better education around the techniques used by exploiters so they can see the risks. Sienna sees this in her own experience.

‘Young women, like me, need to learn to take care of ourselves in school.  We need to know how to prevent situations before they happen.’

Schools have the opportunity to understand a young woman’s needs. Often in the case of exploitation, exclusion has a damaging part to play.

When you get kicked out of school, there is just nothing for you. There’s no alternative.

young woman on bus looking off camera

Education is key

We need to learn to recognise red flags, that look very green at the beginning We need to learn to recognise red flags, that look very green at the beginning

Education is key

Donya works with our Disrupting Exploitation service which specialises in tackling exploitation through the systems that have an impact on children’s lives. She hears from young people that schools need a holistic approach.

‘Often young people tell me that they want to be listened to and understood more, they want teachers who are diverse, understand their generation and who take mental health seriously.’

‘We try to intervene early in schools where a number of their young people are being exploited or are at risk of exploitation.’

‘We deliver training workshops with young people to help them to spot the signs of exploitation.'

Any child. Anywhere.

Every child is different, and every child has their own story. But any child can be exploited – whoever they are and wherever they live.

We all have ideas about who we think an exploited child might be. But it’s important to remember that any child might need our support. They might be younger or older. Any gender. Any background. It’s our job to look closer, spot signs of exploitation and stop this abuse from happening.