Young people are at risk of Criminal Exploitation, and there are several things we can do about it.
As we look ahead to the youth of Britain returning to schools, Round Midnight are thankful that West Midlands Police Force’s #EyesOpen campaign has already begun. #EyesOpen was launched on March 1st as an awareness initiative based on the Criminal Exploitation of young people by drug gangs in and around Birmingham. The purpose of the campaign is to raise public awareness; to give them the tools to ‘know what to look for, know who to help’
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the day to day life of us all. Many of us are working from home, and we are now, for the most part, living through our screens. And our young people? Well, they are doing the same thing. Live lessons, FaceTime, Social Media scroll, Netflix binge, broken sleep. Repeat. For a year.
The world was once their oyster; they had the whole world at their feet; they had got the world in their hands! And to some extent that’s still true: their whole world is in their hands, in the form of a phone or an iPad. Their network of support, their social circle, their education, their future, all resting in that window to the outside world.
“Many [vulnerable young people] have spent a lot of unsupervised time online where they may have made new friends and been approached to get involved in county lines drug dealing.”Chief Inspector Corrina Griffiths
The reality of this dependency on the internet for nearly all aspects of life is a double-edged sword. Of course, we are lucky that technology can keep us connected. Round Midnight are using technology to advance education through VR and interactive platforms. We are passionate about tech being a useful tool for social good. But we are also increasingly aware of the risk that the internet poses if our young people are not safeguarded, and educated on the potential dangers that the internet poses. So while we are using tech for good, we are also keen supporters of workshops, of follow up conversations, and of face to face support. Because we know first hand the impact these moments can have on young people.
Our point? We are thrilled young people will be heading back into school; they need the face to face support of their peers and educators. Our fear? That the time they’ve spent in the virtual world will have made them vulnerable to the real world.
Returning to School
With “ongoing Coronavirus restrictions across the UK, we believe that the risk of online abuse will continue to rise, and many more offences may come to light when children report them at school”.NSPCC
How do we help?
The West Midland’s Police Force have launched #EyesOpen to help the public spot the signs of exploitation. And this was preceded a few weeks earlier, by the British Transport Police’s #LookCloser campaign, which was an initiative that encouraged communities to look closer within their local public spaces for signs of county lines (vulnerable people carrying drugs across police or county borders for gangs they were coerced into) and at risk youth being exposed to crime.
Despite crime dropping throughout lockdown, the “one exception were trends in drug offences, where levels rose by 22% in April 2020 and 44% in May 2020 compared with April and May 2019”.UK Government Report
These campaigns have been vital in spreading awareness on social media, but we need to take that online knowledge and put it into practice when we are all back out in the real world.
Exploitation can happen face-to-face or online and it tends to happen over a prolonged period of time. Usually a gang member will try to gain the trust of a young person by:
- Glamourising their lifestyle
- Becoming a “mate” or even claim to be “in a relationship”
- Give gifts, such as money, clothes, drugs or alcohol
- Offer out somewhere to stay
- Try and find out ways that they can ‘help you out’
- Use the gifts or ‘protection’ they’ve given out in order to force a “return of the favour”
So, when we are looking out of the signs of exploitation we need to be aware of:
- New clothes
- New phones
- A new bike
- A change in attitude
- A change in social circle or “mates”
- A change in habits
- The inability to clearly state where they have been
It is also important to know that criminal exploitation doesn’t just refer to county lines. The coercion into a gang could see a young person:
- sell or transport drugs
- carry a knife or weapon
- store drugs or money
- commit theft, robbery or burglary
- engage in illegal sexual activity
- look after weed grown in a house
If you do feel that there is something wrong, or you’ve noticed a change within one of the young people in your community please reach out to one of the following organisations:
- The Police: call 999 for an emergency or 111 for a non-emergency.
- The British Transport Police: website
- NSPCC: call 0808 800 5000 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Crimestoppers: call 0800 555 111 or use their website
Everybody has the responsibility to safeguard the young people around us, so if something doesn’t feel right, report it.
West Midlands Police are doing all they can to prevent criminal exploitation across Birmingham and the surrounding areas, and we are incredibly proud to support the project. Not least of all because Round Midnight’s co-founder, Claire; our facilitator Dom; and a member of our Raw Talent Youth Theatre, Joe, provided the voices for the harrowing true stories of Birmingham’s vulnerable youth.
For further information on the #EyesOpen campaign, which will run throughout March 2021 on all social media platforms as well as on local radio, please see the West Midlands Police Website.
To learn more about the early intervention workshops that Round Midnight offer, please contact us here.