Criminal Exploitation covers gang crime and county lines and includes children coerced or manipulated into criminal activity such as involvement in cannabis farms or theft. A gang may claim control over territory in a community, and engaging either individually or collectively in violent behaviour or other types of criminal activity. County lines is when gangs and organised crime networks groom and exploit children to sell drugs. They may make them travel across counties, and they use dedicated mobile phone ‘lines’ to supply drugs.
Operation Henderson, is a joint initiative being run by the Essex Safeguarding Children Board, Southend Safeguarding Children Partnership and Thurrock Safeguarding Children Partnership, British Transport Police, Essex Police, the Violence and Vulnerability Unit, Rail Operators, The Railway Children and local councils. It aims to raise awareness of the vulnerability of young people to exploitation and abuse at stations and transport networks in parts of Essex.
Research and local data have shown transport networks are used by vulnerable young people who may be at risk of sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation and trafficking. Young people often gravitate towards stations because they are traditionally busy, anonymous places that also provide some form of shelter and access to food and drink. Bus and rail networks can also be used by offenders to traffic young people for the purpose of sexual and criminal exploitation.
Despite restrictions over the past year, research has shown that young people vulnerable to exploitation are just as likely to be using trains, buses and taxis as they were prior to Covid. They may have been unable to stop, for fear of punishment from their exploiters.
Criminal gangs are targeting the homes of vulnerable people to be used for drug dealing - a process known as “cuckooing” (like the bird that invades other bird’s nests) and victims are often left with little choice but to cooperate. The following individuals are sometimes targeted for cuckooing:
• Those who suffer from drug and/or alcohol addiction
• Those who are struggling financially
• The elderly
• People with mental health issues
• Individuals with learning disabilities
If you are a victim, there are a variety of ways you can get in contact with us:
• Inform a local Police Officer
• Attend your nearest Police Station
• Report online via the ‘Report’ tab on the Essex Police website or speak to one of our colleagues via the ‘livechat’ online
• Call 101
• Or, if you don’t want to speak to the police directly, you can call the anonymous Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555 111.
A young person may use a station or form of public transport in an attempt to disappear. Children run away for a number of reasons, on most occasions they return home safely. Every situation is different and there are no set rules about when a child should be considered missing. However, if you have any doubts about whether to contact the police formally to report a child missing, the police will be happy to discuss your concerns and offer advice about what to do.