What is it?
County lines is a form of criminal exploitation, it is a police term that is used to describe gangs and organised crime networks who expand their drug dealing activities into smaller towns and rural areas; often exploiting young or vulnerable people to move, store or sell their drugs.
The most common drugs involved in county lines are heroin, cocaine, MDMA; gangs transport these drugs through controlling a network of ‘runners’ by mobile phones. Runners are often children or young people who are forced into transporting the drugs by trains or coach to a different area of the UK.
Involvement with county lines can have a devastating effect on the young people involved, their families and the wider community. Young people who have been exploited in this way can often be perceived as criminals themselves, facing jail time regardless of their young age.
Who is affected?
Anyone can be vulnerable to exploitation when young people are targeted, it is reported to be in their neighbourhoods, through their friendship groups at college and through social media.
Once introduced, criminals may groom unknowing young people into trafficking their drugs for them with promises of money, friendship and status. Once they’ve been drawn into the friendship, young people can be controlled using threats, violence and sexual abuse. This often leads to living in fear and feeling unable to escape; becoming trapped and having no other option but to continue to do as the criminals ask.
Gangs can also deliberately target vulnerable people; it can be difficult to understand what classes someone as ‘vulnerable’; so here are some examples of situations that may lead a young person to be described as such:
- those who are homeless
- suffering from a family breakdown or split
- struggling at school
- living in care homes
- trapped in poverty and feel excluded from their peers
As you can see from the above list, categories of vulnerability can actually be situations that are quite common within our friendship groups. I’m sure each and every one of us knows a person who could fit within at least one category, if not more!
How many young people are affected?
No one really knows how many young people across the country are being forced to take part, but The Children’s Commissioner estimates there are at least 46,000 children in England who are involved in gang activity.
What are the signs to look out for that someone you know may be being exploited?
There are many signs that a person may be experiencing exploitation, here are some of the commonly recorded signs of people who have been previously exploited:
- Repeatedly going missing from college or their home
- Travelling alone to places far away from home
- Suddenly having lots of money/lots of new clothes/new mobile phones
- Receiving a lot more calls or texts than usual
- Carrying or selling drugs
What does criminal exploitation mean and why is county lines a safeguarding matter?
When a child or young person is sent by another individual to commit a crime which benefits that person or a group that they belong to; this is exploitation and trafficking.
County lines and/or gang involvement is a safeguarding issue because a child or young person may have suffered, or maybe likely to suffer, significant harm.
In 2018 Merseyside police had the 3rd highest cases for County lines in the UK; this shows that this form of exploitation does take place within our area and it is relevant to our college. As a safeguarding team, it is our duty to protect students by equipping them with an understanding of any safeguarding issues they may be faced with.
Who can I talk to if I am worried about myself or a friend?
Alongside this understanding, it is important that students know there is a safe space to turn within College and we can help. If you are worried about yourself or a friend, you can talk to the safeguarding team through the ‘push the button’ resource and also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to speak with professionals outside of the college, here are some websites that can offer help: