“Things got bad for me last summer…” | A Story of Child Criminal Exploitation

Sam’s* Story

Today, we’re highlighting the issue of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) and the young people affected

Watch Sam’s story below. Learn about his experience of CCE, being in a gang, and how our Is This OK? free, anonymous, confidential service helped him. 

What is Child Criminal Exploitation?

Across the UK, children and young people are targeted by gangs and organised crime groups and forced to move and sell drugs. The children targeted are led to believe these people are their friends despite there often being a strong power imbalance in this friendship. This could be age, physical strength, or status. Gangs will use several tactics to build trust with their victims so that they feel comfortable.

However, things can turn dangerous very quickly. 

Young people involved will find that the people they thought were their friends are now asking them to do things they don’t want to do, such as sell drugs or carry a weapon. They might have a ‘debt’ that they must pay off. The gangs might threaten them and their family and use intimidation and violence to get the young person to do what they want.

The young person might feel trapped and like there is no escape… 

Child Criminal Exploitation and Missing

There are strong links between CCE and missing. CCE is both the cause and a consequence of missing.

Criminal groups force exploited children and young people to travel around the country to unknown locations with little to no communication with their loved ones. Likewise, gangs often target them whilst already away from home.

Either way, for all the families we consulted in 2019 for our report ‘All of us were broken’, going missing was one of the early and serious warning signs of CCE.

Nearly 1 in 10 children who completed return home interviews with us had been a victim of criminal exploitation. 

This was not my son at all. He was frightened of something, I could feel that he was frightened. He was constantly looking out of the window all the time […] Then he went missing two days later then it all fitted into place.

Is This OK?

Victims of CCE often feel that there is no escape and that they are trapped in their situation. We know that children and young people caught up in CCE often don’t view themselves as children and need a service that is confidential, anonymous, and free to access.

This is why we partnered with Childline to create Is This OK?

Is This OK? is a free chatbot that provides advice and connects young people to support. We can point them in the direction of help, discuss their options, or just listen without judgement.

Whatever they are ready for.

Visit the website

*Name has been changed to protect the young person’s anonymity.

Sign up to be a Digital Search Hero

We have launched a regular email so that you can be aware of new missing person appeals and share them far and wide! We are also calling on all Heroes to be the eyes and ears for Missing People on the ground. Your sighting of a missing person could make a difference in a crucial time.