Child Exploitation & County Lines
Child Sexual Exploitation - is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.
There are 3 important and recognisable elements of child sexual exploitation:
- Children are ‘groomed’ and there is power and control held by the perpetrator/s
- An ‘exchange’ (such as gift, food, money, drugs etc.) is present, this could be to a third party and not always to the child themselves.
- Sexual acts or the exchange of sexual images is present.
Child Criminal Exploitation - is common in County Lines and occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual. Child Criminal Exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology. Criminal exploitation of children is broader than just county lines, and includes for instance children forced to work on cannabis farms or to commit theft.
County Lines - The UK Government defines County Lines as: a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas within the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of “deal line”. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons. County Lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities.
What to look out for:- A young person’s involvement in County Lines activity often leaves signs. A person might exhibit some of these signs, either as a member or as an associate of a gang dealing drugs. Any sudden changes in a person’s lifestyle should be discussed with them.
Some potential indicators of county lines involvement and exploitation are listed below, with those at the top of particular concern:
- Persistently going missing from school or home and / or being found out-of-area
- Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes, or mobile phones • excessive receipt of texts / phone calls and/or having multiple handsets
- Relationships with controlling / older individuals or groups
- Leaving home / care without explanation
- Suspicion of physical assault / unexplained injuries
- Parental concerns • carrying weapons
- Significant decline in school results / performance
- Gang association or isolation from peers or social networks
- Self-harm or significant changes in emotional well-being
However, these signs don't necessarily mean a child is being exploited – it may be normal teenage behaviour or a sign that something else is wrong.
Where to go for Support, Advice and Guidance:
Talk to a trusted adult (parents, carers, Designated Safeguarding Leads in school, Heads of Year, Tutors).