Forced Criminal Exploitation
Forced Criminality involves exploiters forcing victims to commit criminal acts. These crimes could include street crime such as selling counterfeit DVDs, bag snatching, ATM theft, pick-pocketing and forced begging. In some cases, children are forced to beg or steal by their parents or family members; they may feel obliged to commit criminal activity ‘for the good of the family’.
Victims may also be exploited for benefit fraud. In some cases, extra tax credits, housing benefits or in the case of child victims, child benefit is claimed. Vulnerable individuals may be held captive by their exploiter who permits them only to go and claim benefits. The money is then taken by the exploiter.
Some organised crime gangs control their victims by blackmailing them with the threat of prosecution and imprisonment. Some victims have been prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned for crimes they have committed whilst they have been trafficked.
In 2021, potential victims were mostly referred for criminal exploitation only, accounting for 33% (4,155 potential victims) of all referrals. An additional 15% (1,945) of referrals stated potential victims had been referred for criminal exploitation and other exploitation types. Child potential victims were most often referred for criminal exploitation (49%; 2,689).
The rate of home grown cannabis has rapidly increased over the last decade, taking over from the problem of cannabis being imported to the United Kingdom by drug traffickers. The use of trafficked labour has become such a problem that it is now the largest trend of child trafficking within Britain.
Gangs or individuals often rent accommodation on residential streets. Cannabis plants are cultivated in these buildings, often in every room. The plants need continual watering and heat in order to grow and require a great deal of attention. There has been a high rate of Vietnamese children who have been trafficked into the UK by gangs to cultivate the cannabis. These children are frequently locked in the houses or flats to tend the growing cannabis. Infrequent food is delivered to them. There have been a number of cases where the children could not speak any English and did not know which country they were in, and had been held for 4-5 years.
Countyline Gang Exploitation
Countylines is the police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns using dedicated mobile phone lines or “deal lines”. Children and vulnerable people are often used by gangs to move drugs and money.
Throughout 2020, a rapid increase in the identification of ‘county lines’ cases partially drove the increase in referrals for children within the criminal exploitation category. In 2021, cases flagged as county lines have remained at this high level, averaging over 500 referrals a quarter. In 2021, 2,053 county lines referrals were flagged, a 23% increase from last year. County lines referrals accounted for 16% of all referrals received in the year (data table 14). The majority (76%; 1,551) of these referrals were for male children.
Children as young as 12 have been used to courier drugs out of their local area. 15 – 16 years of age is the most common age range. Both male and female are being exploited. White British children are targeted because gangs perceive they are more likely to evade police detection. Social media is often used to make initial contact with children and young people.
Vulnerable adults as well as Class A drug users are targeted so that gangs can takeover their homes as Traphouses. This is often done through force or coercion. This takeover is known as Cuckooking.
Spot the Signs of Forced Criminality Involving County Lines
• 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
• 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
Jack lives in Southend-on-Sea. Although his parents separated, they were able to provide for their family. Jack was thirteen when one of his friends introduced him to Tony. Tony was only eight years older than Jack and wore designer clothes and sported an expensive watch. Tony was friendly and asked Jack if he wanted to make some money. Jack agreed. The money was easy. He just needed to transport a back-pack several miles away. Jack didn’t ask what was in the back-pack. Jack wanted the flash lifestyle promoted on gang music videos he’d seen on YouTube. He believed Tony that ‘he could make loads of dosh’.
As Jack’s experience increased he was given increased responsibility. A mobile phone with 30 numbers on it was given to him. This mobile phone line (or ‘countyline’) enabled Jack to contact and transport packages to the 30 people. This was done from a central flat in the community belonging to a man with learning difficulties. Tony and his mates had taken the over the flat as a Traphouse, where the drugs stored when brought from London. Over time Jack realised he was transporting drugs. Although this made him uncomfortable, he was happy with his pay and the risks were low. The Police rarely searched teenagers. Some of his clients were rough and for his own protection he started carrying a knife.
Although Jack was happy with the money he received, his grades deteriorated at school. He started to go missing for short and then longer periods of time. His parents and teachers couldn’t understand what was happening and when Jack was confronted, he become aggressive and withdrew. Surrounded by older guys at the Traphouse, Jack started taking cannabis to help in cope with the stress. Sometimes he wanted to leave it all behind, but Tony told him, ‘it’s not that easy. We are your family now’.