‘Shocking’ county lines exploitation highlights need to improve help for children

By Agencies
January 31, 2019

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has published its fourth annual assessment into county lines drug supply, vulnerability and harm.

The report highlights how violence and control used by drug dealing networks is continuing, and the exploitation of children and vulnerable adults is increasing.

The number of lines has increased from 720 (as acknowledged in the 17/18 assessment) to around 2,000. Children aged between 15-17 make up the bulk of the vulnerable people involved in county lines, and both girls and boys are groomed and exploited.

The grooming techniques seen as part of county lines are similar to what has been seen in child sexual exploitation and abuse, and often the young people don’t see themselves as victims. Instead they are flattered by the attention and gifts they receive, so are less likely to speak to law enforcement.

Exploitation methods continue to involve sexual abuse and exploitation, modern slavery and human trafficking, as well as the threat of violence and injury to ensure compliance.

The assessment publication follows a week of coordinated law enforcement activity across the UK which resulted in over 600 arrests.

Led by police forces and Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCUs), activity included the execution of warrants at addresses, visits to vulnerable people including those at risk of 'cuckooing' (where criminals take over a person's home and use it as a base for drug-dealing), and officer engagement with private hire companies and others who are being exploited by county lines networks.

Between 21 and 27 January 2019:

  • Over 400 vulnerable adults and 600 children were engaged for safeguarding purposes
  • There were 40 referrals to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which assesses individuals as potential victims of human trafficking/modern slavery
  • Over 140 weapons were seized including 12 firearms,swords, machetes, axes and knive
  • Officers seized cash totalling more than £200,000
  • Significant amounts of drugs were recovered, including heroin and cocaine.

Responding to the report, Iryna Pona, Policy Manager at The Children’s Society, said: “These shocking findings sadly come as no surprise to our practitioners, who encounter the cynical grooming of children as young as 11 by gangs to traffic drugs across the country.

“After being promised cash, drugs and a glamorous lifestyle, they are terrified into following orders and we have sadly supported children who have been stabbed, raped and tortured, with their activities monitored through mobile phone livestreaming and tracking.

“While children in care or growing up in poverty are often targeted, these perpetrators prey upon any sign of vulnerability, and this exploitation can affect any child in any community, causing unimaginable trauma.

“The progress outlined in this report in disrupting these gangs is welcome, but much more needs to be done to protect these children.

“Professionals must get better at spotting the signs that children are being exploited and ensuring they get early help, including an assessment to see if they are at risk of being groomed every time they are reported missing from home or care.  We would urge the Government to hurry up and introduce its promised missing persons database, which will ensure information about the risks to children found far from home can be shared across police borders.

“Too many children exploited through county lines are still not being referred to the National Referral Mechanism – the system used to identify victims of modern slavery and human trafficking – and failing to get help from an independent advocate to ensure they are supported as victims and not criminals.  Without that recognition, more vulnerable children will continue to be failed.”

* Read the report here

* National Crime Agency http://www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/

* The Children's Society https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/

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