The frontline of child exploitation

Children as young as six years old are being groomed into a life of criminality. It's a serious problem in all areas of the UK.

We spoke to one of our project workers who works with young people who have been criminally exploited through county lines. She helps them understand their situation so they can move on and build better futures.

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Life on the road

A lot of these children are targeted by criminal gangs because they haven’t got a family, or security. Likely to be trapped in poverty, they are picked off the street, having nowhere else to go, and are made to feel part of a family. They are groomed with gifts and affection, but soon the abuse starts and the child is trapped in a cycle of horror. We’ve encountered children who are deeply affected psychologically from physical abuse like torture, and varying forms of sexual abuse.

However, it’s not just the physical and emotional effects which are awful. Victims are transported around the country, taken far from home, to live in drug dens known as 'trap houses' where there can be horrific conditions.

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Knives are the norm

Young people who are groomed are manipulated and controlled by their abusers.  The ‘elders’ within the criminal gang have complete power over them. They may be forced to hold guns or knives as well as large quantities of drugs.

As part of the grooming process, the gangs will make children mistrust social workers and the police. ‘Snitching’ is made out to be the worst thing a child can do. Victims will be scared of telling on someone because of the repercussions for them or their families back home.

Building trust

My role is to build a trusting relationship with child victims of criminal exploitation. Project workers like me do this through constant and persistent support for that young person, so that they don’t feel like anyone is giving up on them. That might be by meeting up with that child for a coffee and a chat, or dropping them a text or a call to keep in touch, so that they know they are not alone.

As well as this, we also help educate victims about the grooming process in criminal exploitation, helping them understand how the media can glamorise this environment.

Most importantly, we safeguard and protect these young people. I work with them to create a safety plan which helps prevent the abuse from escalating.

How practitioners help

Pioneers of protection

In some instances, a young person may come to me having been threatened with kidnapping, serious violence, and even death threats. In order to keep that child safe, I work with other agencies, such as the police and social services to share information that will ensure the child is moved to a place of safety.

We are pioneering in the area of criminal exploitation. We are in a great position to not only help a young person’s emotional and mental well-being, but also to influence and inform different services to work with victims.

By educating other professionals to better support young people affected by exploitation, we can help disrupt the cycles of abuse.

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