16 October 2018

Protecting young people from exploitation by drug dealers

Action is being taken to protect young people and children being exploited by illegal drug dealers in the city.

Local support agencies are reporting that dealers are targeting, manipulating and bullying teenagers into selling drugs, from cannabis to Class A. The council is working with the police and partner agencies to highlight the risks facing a rising number of children and young people being drawn into this illegal trade as well as taking action to try to reduce exploitation.

The aim is to also raise awareness among so called recreational drug and cannabis users that their purchases will be impacting on and perpetuating abuse.

Mark Cull, Head of Young People’s Services at the YMCA DownsLink Group, is leading a call for residents to help in the battle to stop exploitation by drug dealers. YMCA DownsLink Group has been working with victims of Child Sexual Exploitation for many years and more recently has seen young people who are victims of criminal gangs accessing their services. Cases of children and young people being forced into running and dealing drugs are often linked to sexual exploitation as well.

Mark said: “Public awareness can play a vital role in our attempts to stop young people being badly used by drug dealers. This is about protecting children and young people from criminals who want to use them to their own ends.

“Many young people don’t initially realise they’re being exploited. This can change when a young person is threatened with violence by a dealer who they thought was a friend or when they gain a criminal record while the dealer hides behind the scenes. 

“Anyone choosing to buy drugs needs to understand they’re enabling the exploitation of vulnerable youngsters, who are themselves victims of criminals. It’s such an unethical thing to do and is harming young people’s lives. As a compassionate city, we want this activity stopped before more children are hurt.

“If you see drug dealing, then we encourage you to report what’s going on so vulnerable young people can be protected and the real criminals investigated. Crimestoppers can take information anonymously or if you see a serious incident taking place call 999 right away.”   

Cllr Emma Daniel, lead councillor for neighbourhoods and inclusion, has been working with the community safety partnership on this issue and was actively involved with developing the council’s Violence, Vulnerability and Exploitation strategy. Cllr Daniel said: “The serious risk posed by criminals to children and young people in our city is a situation we are determined to address.

“Anyone considering buying illegal drugs needs to be aware they are complicit in exploitation and this is not acceptable.

“As a council, we’ve commissioned specialist services to support children and young people at risk of exploitation. We will do all we can to keep the city’s children safe.

“We also fully back the police in taking action against those responsible for using young people to sell illegal substances on our streets, in our parks or anywhere in our city.”  

Sussex Police has been forward thinking in tackling exploitation by illegal drug dealers. The force has been working with the Metropolitan Police and Home Office to deal with alleged dealers targeting Brighton & Hove.

Detective Superintendent Jeff Riley, Sussex Police, said: “We’re tackling a rise in reports of illegal drugs being sold in Brighton & Hove and we proactively target drug dealers in the city.

“We’re continuing to prosecute those involved in the trade of illegal drugs and are working across Sussex, and beyond, to bring those at the very top of this chain of misery to justice.

 “The situation is also exacerbated by people choosing to buy drugs and, in doing so, no matter how harmless they try to fool themselves it is, they are perpetuating exploitation of the vulnerable, particularly children and young people.

“Our aim is to target criminal behaviour but we recognise that those who are exploited to sell drugs on behalf of others are often, themselves, victims.”

As a direct result of the rise in exploitation locally there has been a rise in the number of young people referred to local authority support services and charities for help.

St Giles Trust, commissioned by the council, is working with young people to help them make a safe and sustained exit from violence and exploitation by providing specialist help for the young people affected. This builds on St Giles Trust’s existing work in this area through projects in London, Kent, Ipswich and Cardiff.  St Giles Trust’s key spokesperson, Junior Smart, supports the calls to end exploitation. Junior joined St Giles Trust in 2006 when he was released from prison following a 10-year sentence for a drug and gang related offence. With support from St Giles Trust, Junior set up and developed the award-winning SOS Gangs project, London’s largest gangs exit programme.

The influence of music on young people's involvement in violence and criminality is often brought into question through ongoing debates in media and politics. UK Drill music in particular is often seen as related to gang music and culture. AudioActive is a local music organisation supporting young people by using music as a tool for personal development and social change. They are helping young people to nurture their musical interests and talents in a safe and positive environment. AudioActive specialises in urban and electronic music and by supporting young people to work with and learn from professional artists and providing opportunities for them within the music industry, they offer young people the option of an alternative lifestyle.

  • If anyone has concerns about a young person who is being exploited or is at risk of exploitation, please contact Front Door for Families 01273 290400 for advice
  • If you have information about criminal activity relating to drug dealing, please contact Crimestoppers or Sussex Police to report the details

Case study:

Young people can quickly become trapped in harmful relationships with drug dealers. The damage done to young people caught in this cycle of abuse can be devastating.

Dan struggled with the move to secondary school. Separated from his previous school friends, he felt different from others. Dan was miserable, bored and out of his depth. At the beginning of Year 9, some older boys asked him to join them outside school and offered him a joint. Although Dan didn’t enjoy his first taste of cannabis (it made him sick and dizzy), he had a laugh and also felt respected and as though he belonged.

After a few freebies, the pressure to pay for his own joints grew. Dan was told he could easily make money by selling cannabis. He was given several bags of weed as a trial run. While scared, Dan felt excited to be mixing in the world of drug dealers. He admired their lifestyle, confidence and the cars that many owned. When he visited dealers’ homes he was impressed by seeing piles of money.  

Dan decided education was pointless as it could not bring him the earning-power he’d seen with the dealers.

Instead of going to school, he spent most days with dealers and other cannabis smokers. Before he knew it, he was smoking weed almost constantly.

Dan began to feel scared a lot of the time. Some of his mates were beaten up for not paying off debts. Another friend left the city after being threatened by a dealer.

One night Dan was robbed of the drugs he’d been given to sell. The dealers said he and his family would be stabbed and his home would be set on fire if he didn’t repay the debt for the loss, running into hundreds of pounds.

Dan began running drugs across the city and transporting money to various locations, often visiting flats where knives and machetes were on display, to try to pay off his debt. He was regularly given new mobile phones and was responding to calls day and night.

Dan was stopped by the police a few times late at night but he was never caught with drugs.  Although Dan paid off some of the debt, his own habit was now expensive and he continued to owe hundreds of pounds. He stopped going to school all together and spent every waking hour getting stoned or working for the dealers. 

Dan no longer felt respected and was definitely not having a laugh. He felt threatened by rival dealers and began carrying a knife. He was scared for other young people in his group. He noticed the dealers were targeting ever younger children, and that some were being passed around for sex. He often felt sick about what was happening.

Dan was caught in possession of a knife while selling drugs on the street. He was referred to a support agency. This came as a huge relief to Dan. Initially he was reluctant to open up and trust the support worker. Dan was frightened of the consequences for him and his family of explaining what he’d been involved with. Dan was reassured that he could be helped and kept safe. Dan began to talk and was looked after.

Further background information:

Positive impact of the council’s involvement in this area includes an increase in the number of closure orders (where premises have been used for drugs dealing or anti-social behaviour) and a reduction in the number of people who have been ‘cuckooed’ (when a tenant has their house taken over by criminals as base for illegal activities).