With a General Election set to happen this year, it is no surprise that political parties are highlighting their plans to tackle crime. Recently, the Home Office published a report calling on the Government to make sure criminal exploitation is included in the Modern Slavery Act so that young people aren’t arrested for crimes they were forced to commit, while the adults who exploit them are not investigated or brought to justice, remaining free to exploit other young people.

The true scale of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) is not known because many young people being exploited fall through the cracks of statutory support and are not officially reported on. However, the Home Office’s report states that half of the victims of criminal exploitation in the UK are British boys under the age of 18.  

Our experience of supporting young Londoners impacted by violence and exploitation, is that the legal systems response to CCE is unpredictable and often confusing. This is due to difficulty in identifying cases, perceiving young Londoners as perpetrators rather than victims and a lack of multi-agency collaboration to keep young Londoners safe.  

To keep young Londoners safe, it is important to understand that CCE is real, and it happens all around us. It can happen anywhere, take many forms, happen over different periods of time and it can happen to any young Londoner. 

But it is stoppable when we act. 

We want to increase everyone’s understanding of CCE, so that it doesn’t happen. Continue reading and join us in taking action against CCE. 

“His transition to adulthood was not like many others his own age. It was met with many barriers including homelessness, having no bank account and no identification. This all limited his opportunities to establish independence and severely decreased his outlook on life.”

Safer London Caseworker referring to a young Londoner being exploited through County Lines.

What is child criminal exploitation?

CCE is when someone builds a relationship with a young person under the age of 18 to manipulate them or force them into criminal activity. 

You may have heard of the term ‘County Lines’ on the news or in TV shows – this is one of the biggest examples of CCE. This is when someone befriends a young person, either online or offline, and then manipulates them into drug dealing across geographical areas.  

How are young Londoners exploited?

Any young Londoner can be at risk of criminal exploitation. However, it disproportionately affects those with unmet needs that exploiters can use to manipulate and control. This might include those experiencing homelessness, poverty, drug and alcohol misuse, strained family relationships and violence in the home.  

Young Londoners never ‘make a choice’ to get involved in criminal activity. It often starts with grooming. The exploiter gains the young Londoner’s trust and creates a position of power over the young Londoner, in preparation for abuse.  

It’s important to remember that CCE doesn’t just happen in person. Exploiters are using the digital world more and more as a way of grooming young Londoners. This might be through social media, online gaming or livestreaming sites. 

What are the signs that a young Londoner is being exploited?

CCE isn’t obvious, but you can spot it and stop it. Here is a list of questions you can ask yourself: 

  • Is the young Londoner travelling alone during school hours or late at night? 
  • Are they in possession of more than one phone? 
  • Are they potentially under the influence of drugs or alcohol?  
  • Are they spending time with individuals older than them, and are those individuals appearing to be controlling or instructing them? 
  • Do they have emotional outbursts or extreme mood swings? 
  • Have you noticed they are withdrawing from family and friends? 
  • Do they have unexplained bruises or injuries? 
  • Are they receiving unexplained gifts or packages from unfamiliar people?  

How can Safer London help?

We offer bespoke training* on topics including Child Criminal Exploitation for professionals working with or overseeing services for young Londoners, as well as any parents, carers and community organisations.  

To request training please email bd@saferlondon.org.uk

Are you worried about a young Londoner?

If you’re concerned about a young Londoner’s safety, there are ways we can help.  

Our Caseworkers work with young Londoners facing significant risk of harm from violence and exploitation. They work alongside young Londoners through one-to-one support to make sure they are safe and that they stay safe.  

Make a referral today. 

If you think a young person is in immediate danger of being harmed dial 999. 

*Training is offered at a cost and is dependent on availability within the Safer London team.