Like other forms of abuse and exploitation, county lines exploitation:
• can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years;
• can affect any vulnerable adult over the age of 18 years;
• can still be exploitation even if the activity appears consensual;
• can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and is often accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
• can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and young people or adults;
• is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the exploitation. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.
One of the key factors found in most cases of county lines exploitation is the presence of some form of exchange (e.g. carrying drugs in return for something). Where it is the victim who is offered, promised or given something they need or want, the exchange can include both tangible (such as money, drugs or clothes) and intangible rewards (such as status, protection or perceived friendship or affection). It is important to remember the unequal power dynamic within which this exchange occurs and to remember that the receipt of something by a young person or vulnerable adult does not make them any less of a victim. It is also important to note that the prevention of something negative can also fulfil the requirement for exchange, for example a young person who engages in county lines activity to stop someone carrying out a threat to harm his/her family.
A Case Study from South Wales Police -
At least one vulnerable female has been used by a gang from London to sexually service its members and has been subjected to sexual violence. As a result of drugs debts they attempted to kidnap her at least twice and it is believed that they have also trafficked her to London in order to pay off a debt through prostitution.