South Yorkshire Police warn of signs of child criminal exploitation to look out for
Parents, carers and teachers are being urged to familiarise themselves with the signs of child criminal exploitation and ‘county lines.’
The term ‘county lines’ refers to members of organised crime groups moving children or vulnerable adults around the country, for the purpose of selling drugs, in a bid to expand their criminal network and boost their profits.
The term comes from the phone lines used between dealers in different areas.
South Yorkshire Police plans to raise awareness of the issue this week.
Detective Chief Inspector Emma Wheatcroft said: “Throughout this week we are raising awareness of the signs to spot in relation to child criminal exploitation and how you can help us to safeguard vulnerable young people and prevent them from becoming victims.
“Typically, it is young boys aged 15-17 who we see recruited by older men, to sell drugs on their behalf. However, it’s important to remember that anyone, including young girls and vulnerable adults, can be exploited.
“While we have seen a few cases of this occurring within the boundaries of South Yorkshire, it is still vastly under-reported and as such, we need to raise awareness to highlight the signs that someone could be being exploited by a gang member.” She said county lines often involves the use of coercion, threats of violence or physical harm to force youngsters and vulnerable adults into conducting illegal activities. DCI Wheatcroft added: “A lot of the time, people being exploited may not see themselves as victims, for example if they are being given gifts or cash, therefore we all have a responsibility to spot the signs of child criminal exploitation.”
She said signs to look out for include a significant change in behaviour and children suddenly mixing with new older ‘friends’ and spending a lot of time away from home.
Children being exploited may also suddenly have new items which they cannot explain. Victims may also go missing or spent long periods away from home. They may also have unexplained injuries and their performance at school may dip. DCI Wheatcroft added: “We are working hard alongside key partner agencies who have links in to young children, including the local authorities, to safeguard vulnerable youngsters and educate them about the dangers of child criminal exploitation.
“Throughout the week we will also have officers going into schools across the county to talk about county lines and speak to teachers about how they can help.
“Victims can often mistakenly be viewed as having chosen to engage in criminal behaviour. Our aim is to safeguard them and to understand how they became involved, in order to put the necessary safeguarding measures in place.”