By understanding what to look for, such as potential warning signs that a young person is perhaps being exploited and knowing what information can help prevent crime, the public can play a vital part in keeping young people safe and saving lives.
Sometimes people involved in crime will take advantage of young people and manipulate them into doing things they wouldn’t normally do, such as helping to sell drugs, carrying weapons or stealing for example, which puts young people at risk.
The tactics that these people use are clever, and someone might not understand they are being used or 'groomed'. They can include:
making a young person feel that they will be looked after
that they will gain respect or money
gifts such as trainers or phones
lending them money
These tactics often mean the young person is then in their debt and will owe them favours, such as carrying weapons or selling drugs. They have no problem with putting a young person at risk to make money.
We know that some young people, when put in a difficult and frightening situation, have made decisions in the heat of the moment that have unfortunately changed their lives and others forever.
Knowing the signs of gang grooming to spot can mean that you can help a young person before it’s too late – before they either get hurt or do something that they end up regretting.
What shall I look for?
If you are concerned about a young person then there are things you can look for - subtle changes in behaviour that could be an indicator:
Are they being secretive about where they are, what they are doing, who they are seeing?
Will they let you look in their bags or pockets?
Will they let you look at their phone, are they secretive about who is calling or messaging? Do they have multiple mobile phones?
Are they coming home with items they can’t afford, or they are unwilling to explain where they got them – such as phones, expensive trainers or clothes?
Are they going missing for periods of time or playing truant from school?
Have they stopped engaging with teachers or going to school or perhaps they aren’t doing as well?
Have they stopped doing after school activities or going to clubs they used to like?
Are they scared to go out or perhaps reticent to go to certain places?
Have they started to hang around with different or older people, have an older boy or girlfriend and perhaps aren’t seeing their existing friends as much?
Do they seem scared, quiet or angry a lot more than they used to?
Do they have marks or injuries that they seem very secretive about?
Many of these signs might just be down to typical teenage challenges and part of growing up, exam pressure, teenage relationships or other stressful issues. But they could also be signs that a young person is being groomed or used by criminals or gangs.
What can I do?
If you are worried, talk to the young person and outline your concerns. Ask about them about their own worries and discuss what you can do to help.
You can also talk to their school, youth worker or your local police team.
Sometimes having difficult conversations, whilst uncomfortable at the time, can prevent something more serious from happening.