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Pressure can take many forms. Pressure to pay the bills. Pressure to play the part. Pressure to be places you shouldn't and do things you don't want to do. Pressure to take things you don't want to take.
If friends are pressuring you to get involved with their criminal activities the reality is you have choices. We have worked with many young people in that same place. Although the journey might be tough, leaving that life behind is easier than it may seem.
Here are tips and advice on how you can gradually start to get your life back to normal. However, it is very important to remember that if you or anyone else is facing an immediate threat you should dial 999. You might also need specialist help if things are complex and you will have difficulty managing the situation by yourself, or if the safety of you and your family is at risk.
This involves children and young people – in St Giles’s experience this is young people up to the age of 25 – who are trafficked, exploited and coerced into committing criminal acts such as drug dealing and violent crime. Frequently, this involves gangs and what is termed by professionals as county lines.
Many young people feel under threat. However, if you carry a weapon you statistically have more chance of it being used against you rather than it protecting you. If you are caught you could end up with a prison sentence. This will affect the rest of your whole life and could make it more difficult for you to gain a job, go to University, travel and access things such as insurance.
Money made from crime a bit is like fake money. It can be taken away at any point – confiscated by the authorities if you are caught or robbed from you by a group of rivals. You cannot use it to save up for any of the most life changing purchases such as a home. However, any money you make legitimately is yours to keep, spend and save up for the future as you choose to. If your family are short of money you should never feel under pressure to commit crime to help sort out this issue – speak to a professional such as a teacher, social worker or another trusted adult who can help your family get the support they need.
If your friends aren’t doing anything illegal this is fine – enjoy your time with your friends who will be an important part of your whole life. However, if your friends are involved in activities such as drug dealing, weapons or any other form of criminal activity, remember that this could also have consequences for you if they are ever caught and you are also present. Even if you aren’t doing anything yourself there is still the possibility that you could face criminal changes.
No one should be bullied so speak to your parent/caregiver, a teacher or other trusted adult in your life if you are experiencing this. You may also find it helpful to talk to hotlines such as Young Minds But remember, although the elders might be protecting you now they may expect something in return which might lead to them exploiting you in serious ways. It is best to look for help somewhere else.
If you don’t feel like you fit in, you share something with geniuses and creators who have created some of the world’s greatest breakthroughs! We are all different and all of us feel isolated at some point in our lives – especially during our teens when we are still growing up and finding our way in the world. Use your unique way of seeing it to your advantage.
Criminal gangs often know you could be feeling like this and unfortunately they can target young people in this situation. Don’t let yourself be sucked in - remember that school exclusion does not mean you cannot take GCSEs and you have just as much right to an education as everyone else. Talk to a teacher or an adult you trust if you are worried.
If you recognise this and know that you need to ask for help to make changes, you are facing up to things and already some way forward. There are steps you can take yourself to help remove yourself from the situation but you may need some support and advice to do this. However, remember you should always dial 999 if you or anyone around you such as your family is in immediate danger.
Most importantly, don’t keep things bottled up and reach out for help. This can be from someone you trust in your life already such as your parent or teacher or it can be from someone who is a professional in helping young people with these issues. At St Giles, we realise how difficult life is for young people in these types of situations so we train people who have been in similar ones to help other young people. They’ve walked in your shoes, come from similar communities and really understand what’s going on for you.
You may be reluctant to seek help because you are worried that the police may become involved. Whilst the police have a duty to investigate where crimes may have been committed it does not necessarily mean you will be arrested. Organisations like St Giles have been training the police in issues around child criminal exploitation and raising awareness of the way in which young people are unwittingly exploited and should be treated as victims rather than perpetrators. If you are ever in a situation where the police have got involved, contact a trusted adult so they can support and advise you through this.
St Giles runs a growing range of projects helping young people involved in or at risk of child criminal exploitation including county lines. Some of these need certain criteria to be met in order to access full casework support. However we will do our best to offer telephone support as a minimum wherever we can. Email us at [email protected]
Missing People’s Safecall service – this is a scheduled telephone call supporting young people, professionals and families affected by criminal exploitation including county lines: https://www.missingpeople.org.uk/how-we-can-help/173-safecall.html
Safer London supports young Londoners, their families and communities affected by violence and exploitation: https://saferlondon.org.uk/about-us/
The Children’s Society have a section of online material and resources specifically aimed at parents, caregivers and professionals who are supporting young people involved in county lines: https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-we-do/our-work/tackling-criminal-exploitation-and-county-lines/county-lines-resources