How do British teenagers become victims of trafficking and exploitation?

There have been numerous media stories and court cases lately involving the trafficking of British teenagers.

Whilst their exploitation may look different to the exploitation of other young people around the world, human trafficking always comes down to the same thing. 

Vulnerability.

Criminals looking to profit from controlling the lives of others will target vulnerable people.

While it is stories of young people being recruited for ‘County Lines’ drug dealing that often make headlines, in recent weeks we heard of a criminal network who coerced 30 teenage girls into committing fraud.

The defendants targeted teenagers, some as young as 14, who were in the care system, foster homes, had difficult family relationships, or had mental health issues.

The girls were approached via social media, befriended and groomed by the gang, before being driven around the country, sometimes missing for days, to carry out theft and fraud at numerous shops.

The criminals behind the operation printed fake bar codes and receipts, which they instructed the girls to stick onto higher priced goods in order to pay a cheaper price. The girls would then return the item to be refunded the original higher price.

If they were ever stopped by security, they were left by the gang to deal with the consequences, which often meant they were abandoned miles from home in unfamiliar towns. 

The criminal gang then used the girls’, and other vulnerable people’s names and addresses, to open bank accounts in which to launder the stolen money through.

They also registered phones and cars they were using in the operation to the addresses of people with mental health issues and learning difficulties.

The young age of the girls alerted the shop staff to the possibility they were being exploited and they called the police.

The gang were tracked down and charged with crimes under the Modern Slavery Act. A trial earlier this month at Snaresbrook Crown Court in Essex, found three people guilty, amongst other things, of conspiracy to arrange or facilitate the travel of children for exploitation, 

In a statement published by the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) Sergeant PJ Jones, an officer from the Met’s Predatory Offender Unit, said “This is a serious case involving the criminal exploitation of a large number of juvenile girls spanning many years. 

“(The gang) were too cowardly to execute their own crimes, and actively recruited girls with obvious vulnerabilities.”

Marie Olo, of the CPS added: “Exploiting others for criminal gain is a serious criminal offence and wherever possible the CPS will work with police to help victims escape the clutches of modern slavery, while prosecuting the people who have pulled the strings.” 

City Hearts are currently supporting 47 British people who have been accepted into the NRM (National Referral Mechanism), which is the Government funded support network for people identified as victims of modern slavery. 21 of these people are listed as having been forced to commit a crime. This could include county lines, fraud, begging, or drug cultivation.

City Hearts Accommodation Manager Kyle France, has helped support numerous British clients throughout his time with the organisation, and believes they often face different challenges than those trafficked here from overseas.

“The majority of British people we have looked after have been controlled using addictions to substances, meth or heroine,” he said.

“This causes them issues around reliance on drugs, and makes them vulnerable to potential re-trafficking. 

“British clients are generally harder to take advantage of, so many people we support will have been made vulnerable due to some really traumatic experiences in their lives such as bad childhoods, sexual abuse or similar. 

“British survivors of exploitation also find it harder to be taken seriously when reporting their crimes to the police or when discussing it with other authorities. The threshold for sympathy from services is quite low when it is a British client, and even more so when the client is male.”

Read the statement from the CPS here: https://www.cps.gov.uk/london-south/news/crime-gang-who-tasked-vulnerable-girls-uk-wide-shoplifting-spree-convicted