These forms of offending often occur alongside sexual exploitation, trafficking and slavery, so the west midlands criminal exploitation board has begun to coordinate partners’ responses to all of these issues. The board also incorporates organisational responses to people who are reported missing, as going missing can be a symptom of already being exploited, or can place a person at heightened risk of this type of harm.
Sadly, criminal exploitation is a widespread issue and can affect anybody. Children as young as 12 years old are being exploited by gangs to transport and sell drugs, either locally or travelling across the country to areas where they are not known. Those most frequently targeted are often only 15 or 16 years of age.
Exploitation almost always involves isolation from friends, family and peers, and can cause young people to miss school, or leave education completely. As well as the risks that they face every day in this dangerous environment, there are long term impacts on their health and wellbeing, along with their chances in life. It can be very hard to repair family bonds and other trusted relationships, and their childhood or teenage years are stolen.
Young people are groomed by offenders and drawn into relationships in a range of different ways – through online interaction, outside the school gates, or through friends. At some point, the relationships turn and the person’s ability to choose to leave the situation disappears – through either fear or experience of violence and often through threats against people they care about. This can lead to victims then, in turn, recruiting others into the same situation that they themselves are unable to escape.
People being exploited in this way are victims, but may first come to light when the crimes they are forced to commit are identified. This area is one of the most complex for organisations to navigate, with only partial information usually available about the situation. This is also an incredibly complex situation for parents, families and friends to navigate, and it is essential to shape services in a way which provides support for them too.
In the West Midlands there are well established processes and practices to respond to sexual exploitation, however the current threat from exploitation is broader than these and local authorities, together with other agencies, are working to improve their approach to respond to child criminal exploitation, trafficking and slavery.
What is the VRU Doing?
We have established a Criminal Exploitation and Missing Board which brings together different agencies to improve the response to children and young people who are at risk of or experiencing criminal exploitation.
In practical terms this means we are:
- Increasing information sharing between organisations so we can better understand the problem and respond to it.
- Making sure our young people are kept safe and prevented from being exploited by ensuring they have access to the right services across the West Midlands.
- Ensuring that training is available to everybody, no matter what their role, so that they are in a good position to identify the signs of exploitation as early as possible and know what to do when they see it.
- Reviewing the services that are available for young people when they turn 18 and how adult services are equipped to support them.
- Learning from other areas of the country and sharing good practice.