Campaign launched to raise awareness of child exploitation
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We are launching a two-week campaign today (Monday 23 October) aimed to raise awareness of criminal groups who exploit children in the county through county lines drug dealing and other criminality.
We’ll be working with partners, such as Catch 22, to educate teenagers, aged between 13 and 17, and highlight the dangers and consequences of being involved in gang culture, violence or drugs.
County lines is a way to describe a specific type of criminality – this is where gangs and organised crime networks exploit children and others to sell drugs. They are often forced to travel to different counties, and they use dedicated mobile phone lines called ‘dealer or drug lines’ to sell these drugs.
Gangs and criminals can deliberately target children at any age and these children are often groomed, deceived or threatened into carrying and selling drugs for them.
Throughout the two-week long campaign, we will also be speaking to carers/parents and the local community and advising them on signs a young person may be involved in county lines and what they can do to help and support them.
We will be running campaign adverts on social media channels including Snapchat and YouTube as well as on gaming platforms.
Content on these adverts will include anonymous quotes from young people who have been caught up in County Lines who have subsequently been helped by Catch 22. This is to show there is a light at the end of tunnel.
And with train stations often used by the young people to transport drugs to different areas, we will have posters at key train stations across Staffordshire.
This campaign comes after a successful intensification week where we safeguarded 14 people, seized almost one kilo of cocaine, crack cocaine and heroin, worth more than £75,000, and closed four major county lines.
Detective Superintendent Nicki Addison, from our Major and Organised Crime Department, said: “As well as working with partners to let parents, carers and educators know what to spot, we proactively target the criminal gangs who exploit children and vulnerable adults as part of these drug networks.
"These gangs don't care about the human cost of their dealing. They also don't care about the impact in the wider community with the associated increased violence, anti-social behaviour and other drug-related offences in local neighbourhoods which does affect innocent people.”
Young and vulnerable people can be groomed online or face-to-face by a stranger or someone they know. They are often given money, clothing and gifts in exchange for becoming involved, which can include completing tasks such as holding, moving or selling drugs.
Addison also advises on some of the key signs a child or young person could be at risk.
She said: “Signs of a child being at risk could include them talking about older or new friends they have met including online, talking about gifts, trainers, money or in game credits they have received which may also be online. Receiving large numbers of calls or messages, being worried about being away from their phone and having a new phone or more than one phone are just some of the important signs to look out for.
“Young people may appear anxious, frightened or angry, but they may also appear disruptive or aggressive. And they could be seen with large amounts of cash.”
Staffordshire Commissioner for Police, Fire & Rescue and Crime Ben Adams said: “This important campaign from Staffordshire Police will raise awareness of county lines drug dealing, and is designed to prevent vulnerable children and young people from becoming involved with these organised criminal gangs.
“County lines not only harms the young people themselves, but also impacts on their families and friends. I would urge parents, carers and the wider community to make themselves aware of the signs of a child at risk, and how to report any concerns they may have.”
Gemma Mander, Service Coordinator at Catch22 Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) Service said: “County lines gangs who exploit children and young people have a devastating impact on our communities. Children and young people affected by county lines are often manipulated and coerced into committing crimes or sexual acts. It is common in county lines for an individual or group to take advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person. Specific to exploitation via county lines is the requirement to travel out of area to support the selling of drugs – this removes the support network around the victim and makes them more vulnerable to exploitation.
“We’re here to help young people understand what county lines is, why it can be difficult to recognise and what the impact can be. We will continue to work with partners to safeguard young people and support them to find positive ways forward in line with their hopes and aspirations.”