Drug gangs using social media to groom young people in county towns, new report finds

Young people are being groomed locally as drug gangs and dealers adapt the way they work to exploit young people across county lines, new research suggests.

03/04/21

Drug gangs using social media to groom young people in county towns, new report finds

County Lines gangs are using new methods to exploit vulnerable young people, as well as targeting those in county towns and more rural areas, a new report has found.

The ‘Between the Lines’ report from the National Youth Agency (NYA) finds there is an increasing trend for gangs to target vulnerable young people in county-towns and rural areas, as well as moving young people across county lines.

Authors say this has been supported by an increase in, and diversification of, social media use by gangs in order to groom different types of young people in-county and across county lines.

The report also found that there is a lack of sufficient youth services and other support systems in place for young people in many county towns and rural areas, with a concentration of diversionary projects in the urban cities where gangs operate from.

There is also an increasing risk to young people from more affluent areas or supported family backgrounds, and of girls and young women, who are less likely to be picked up by the police, the report warned.

Private and encrypted social media makes detection and protection difficult and increases the reach of gangs to a wider number of young people, the authors said.

Increased grooming in local areas also means that young people are missing for shorter periods, sometimes for only part of the school day, which the NYA says puts them at risk of criminal exploitation.

Leigh Middleton, Chief Executive Officer of the National Youth Agency, said COVID-19 was ‘localising’ gang activities.

“A policing response helps close down county lines, and children’s protection services support those known to be most at risk from gangs. However, new lines open up, local dealers fill in the gaps and gangs change the way they work, targeting a new group of young people. There is more in-county grooming by urban gangs, enhanced by use of social media.

“Just as gangs adapt, so services need to. Youth services can provide a safe space in local communities and trained youth workers. Outreach and street-based youth workers know their area, and are known and trusted by the young people in them.

“They are well placed to identify early and support young people at risk from county lines. Yet there is a distinct lack of adequate youth provision in many county towns and rural areas. There is little or no co-ordinate between youth services across county borders.

“By investing in youth services, not only will be we better know and support young people who are missing from the official statistics, we will stay one step ahead of the gangs by working locally to build community resilience and provide early help for young people.”

As a result of the report, the NYA is calling for better cross-boundary co-ordination between youth services, rather than just policing and social care-based responses.

They also recommend Government guidance for violence reduction units (VRUs) with ring-fenced funding for detached, outreach and digitised youth work in county towns and rural areas.

Read the full ‘Between the Lines’ report: https://nya.org.uk/resource/between-the-lines/

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