Criminal exploitation, gangs and county lines

Criminal exploitation

Criminal exploitation is child abuse where children and young people are manipulated and coerced into committing crimes.


The word 'gang' means different things in different contexts, the government in their paper 'safeguarding children and young people who may be affected by gang activity' distinguishes between peer groups, street gangs and organised criminal groups.

Peer group

A relatively small and transient social grouping which may or may not describe themselves as a gang depending on the context.

Street gang

Groups of young people who see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group for whom crime and violence is integral to the group's identify.

Organised crime gangs

A group of individuals for whom involvement in crime is for personal gain (financial or otherwise). For most crime is their 'occupation'.

It is not illegal for a young person to be in a gang - there are different types of 'gang' and not every 'gang' is criminal or dangerous. However, gang membership can be linked to illegal activity, particularly organised criminal groups involved in trafficking, drug dealing and violent crime.

County lines

County Lines is the police term for urban gangs exploiting young people into moving drugs from a hub, normally a large city, into other markets - suburban areas and market and coastal towns - using dedicated mobile phones lines or 'deal lines'.  County Lines can involve children being trafficked away from their home area, staying in accomodation and selling and manufacturing drugs. This can include:

  • short term private rental properties
  • budget hotels
  • the home of a drug user, or other vulnerable person, that is taken over by a criminal gang (also known as cuckooing).