28 Nov 2017

Responding to the National Crime Agency's report on 'county lines' exploitation, Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:

“This report sheds light on the shocking scale of the grooming and exploitation of children by criminal gangs, but we are seriously concerned that these figures may still be just the tip of the iceberg.

“The stories we have heard from young victims of ‘county lines’ exploitation are horrifying and absolutely heartbreaking. Gangs are grooming the most vulnerable young people in our society with drugs and alcohol or promises of status and wealth, then using threats, violence and sexual abuse to coerce and control their victims. The coercion of children into drug dealing is traumatic and puts them at great risk – they are often forced to carry drugs inside their bodies, and sent across the country to stay in ‘trap houses’ and sell drugs to dangerous adults.

“Too often, these young people are seen as having chosen to get involved with gangs and as a result they are criminalised when they should instead be recognised as victims of trafficking and exploitation. Legislation also needs to be updated to take into account the methods gangs are using to threaten and control young people and give police and children’s service the tools to identify and disrupt exploitation earlier.

“We know from our work supporting young runaways that young people who go missing from home are frequently falling victim to criminal exploitation. The risk of ‘county lines’ exploitation needs to be assessed every time a child is reported missing, and the government must speed up the introduction of its promised Missing Persons Database to enable the sharing of information across police borders when children are found far from home.

“The findings of this report show that the police alone will not be able to protect children from criminal exploitation. Education is also vital to make sure that children are aware of the risks of grooming and exploitation, and the government should include this in relationships and sex education. Concerted efforts are needed from all services and professionals working with children to identify children at risk and take action to stop ‘county lines’ exploitation devastating young lives.”

Media contact:
The Children’s Society media team on media@childrenssociety.org.uk or 0207 841 4422 (office hours) mobile: 078107 96508 (24 hours).

Notes to editors
• The Children’s Society is a national charity that runs local services, helping children and young people when they are at their most vulnerable, and have nowhere left to turn. We also campaign for changes to laws affecting children and young people, to stop the mistakes of the past being repeated in the future. Our supporters around the country fund our services and join our campaigns to show children and young people they are on their side.