According to the Centre for Social Justice, a gang can be described as ‘a relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of young people who see themselves as a discernible group, engage in a range of criminal activity, identify or lay claim over territory, have some form of identifying structural feature and are in conflict with other, similar gangs’.
It is estimated that there are nearly 30,000 young people aged 10 to 14 years, currently involved in gang culture. The rise in telecommunications, social media and faster transport links means that gangs are no longer just an inner-city issue.
Drugs gangs in particular seek out vulnerable young people, particularly those with special educational needs or mental health issues, often targeting and recruiting them via social media. Often easier to control and less likely to be picked up by the police, these recruits are then exploited, through deception, intimidation, violence and grooming.
‘County Lines’ drug gangs are increasingly supplying drugs to suburban areas, market and coastal towns, using young people to move, sell and deliver their products, often outside of their own county. These gangs will seek out emotionally vulnerable young people, looking to fill the gap of a deceased or absent parent for example, and become part of their ‘family’.
Young people may be bribed with expensive gifts (money, food, alcohol, jewellery, clothes etc) in return for their cooperation, often manipulated and made to feel in debt to the gang.
Some important signs to watch out for if you believe your son or daughter may be involved in a gang are:
- Leaving home suddenly without an explanation and staying out unusually late
- Unexplained injuries or suspicion of physical assault
- Persistently going missing or being found in areas away from home
- Being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going
- Suddenly talking about friends you’ve never heard of, often much older than them
- Becoming isolated from peers and old friends
- Unexplained absences and loss of interest in school, college, training or work
- Sudden changes in lifestyle, change of clothing style, brand and emotional wellbeing
- Unexplained money, clothes or jewellery
- Using more than one phone and being very secretive about it.
- Using more than one phone, or receiving an excessive amount of texts or phone calls and answering/responding immediately
If you are worried that your child is being exploited by a gang, you should seek help and support straight away. A good place to start is the NSPCC – you can visit their website at https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-is-child-abuse/types-of-abuse/gangs-criminal-exploitation/ or call them on 0808 800 5000.