“We believe he first become involved with county lines when he was 11”.
The meeting continued after that line was said but for me…for a moment… not for me. It was like I had forgotten how to breath out.
Not because this was the first time, I had heard this. Na…it was not the first time I had heard this about this young man to be honest.
Except now we were not speaking about him as if he was a victim. We were only referring to him as a perpetrator. And that hit me differently. Like…ok…so when did we stop supporting and seeing him as a victim.
When he turned 18?
The first time he went to prison.
I think he was about 11/12 the first time I met him. He was never my direct child. But he worked directly with professionals very close to me and was linked to all the young people I worked with.
But the first time I personal interacted with him, he was about 11.
It was down the main high street, and I was looking for one of my kids who had gone missing. I had gone out searching and found myself in front of a groups of young people. I knew every face there, but some of them did not know me. Did not know I knew their history, The crime reports. The mapping that I had been part of where each one of their names was presented. I know some from pictures only.
The kids that did know me, knew why I was there and who I was looking for. They claimed they did not know where he was. And when I said I knew he had gone country, some looked at their feet and some just laughed.
And that’s the first time I interacted with him. The boy. He looked younger than his age. He was dressed in some of the most expensive trainers I had seen in that area. His clothes were crisp, new, and expensive, just as the phone in his hand was.
“Don’t worry about it” he said in his squeaky 11-year-old voice “he will be back when he is back”.
I looked upon this one with a long look. So much I wanted to say but knew I could not. Watching this child speak on behalf of the group. Some in their 20s easily…. made me incredibly angry.
“You tell **** that I want him back tonight or we will start looking at the address we have in London” I said to one of the older boys. We locked eyes. He knew I was not playing. Then I turned to the likkle one with the mouth and said, “you don’t speak for these boys and you don’t speak for ****”. He was rude. I left. And went straight to the police and social services with my concerns for him.
And continued to do so for many years.
As I said, I never worked directly with him ever. But so many referrals that I have made had his name all over it.
“He is being exploited”.
“He is involved in county lines”.
“He is drug dealing”.
“He is the victim of child criminal exploitation”.
“People say they will kill him”.
“His mum doesn’t want him”
All the above and more I have written about this young man, over and over again. In and out of services he went.
When he was 14, he was found in a trap house and arrested. On arrest they had to take him to hospital because on the way to the police station he buckled over in pain and disclosed he had a belly full of heroin that he was “Holding for someone”. He was incredibly lucky that night and the hospital saved him.
‘Saved” him seems the wrong word because he received his first prison sentence based on that event. The 14-year-old boy who was clearly being exploited, almost dies because of the amount of bagged heroin he had inside of him…. placed in prison. In prison with his “friends” because that sequence of events led to almost the whole gang going down.
I raised at the time that I believed he would be further exploited in prison. But he was not my child and now…not even in the same system that I operated in.
There were rumours that he was a snitch. That he had told on others to get less time. And with that he was moved out of area within the prison system.
And I raised it then, that if this were true then he would be in great danger on release.
But no one communicated with me. Why would they. Not my child.
Then I heard the news…. several years later…. that he was coming out.
My first thought was…yer…but not in ends. They will place him out of area.
And so, he was back in ends within 24 hours.
Now aged 19. Now not a child, I guess. Although…. there was the undiagnosed SEN….
Within weeks and I do mean weeks…I found myself in a STRAT for a group of girls that it was believed had been sexually exploited and the name right of the middle of the mix…. him
And so, the police began to read out all the convictions and such that were connected to him. The alleged perp. The list was very long and at the end of it the police officer said.
“As you can see, not a very nice man at all”.
And so, I cleared my throat and spoke.
“You haven’t mentioned his exploitation”.
And the policewomen looked at her notes…at me….and said….
“no…he was the one doing the exploitation”.
“Yes, but you said he was first involved in county lines at 11”.
She looks at me…. not sure what my point is.
“And you have just said that the address he was tagged to on release…. you now believe was a flat that was set up by known county line recruiters in London”.
They are all looking at me now.
“And” I go on knowing that they are shocked “and you said that he has been seen several times over the past few weeks with a known county lines recruiter, much older male”.
The chair of the meeting was nodding. He knew. He knew my point.
“And…. you have said that upon his arrest this week he was rushed to hospital because he once again had a belly full of heroine”.
The silence was uncomfortable for all of us.
I have a reputation that I believe is respected. I am the voice for sexually exploited children. I make lots of noise and ensure that their voice is heard.
And in this case, I still was. I was speaking from the chest when I said my part for the girls.
However, I wear two hats. And that can be difficult for people to understand. And that is ok. I don’t need people to understand that.
But when did we stop caring about his safeguarding? When did we stop looking at his safety? He has been in prison most of his teenage life and comes out into what looks like clear exploitation…and now back in prison.
We are going to keep imprisoning him for his own exploitation.
His own abuse?
Grooming and exploitation is a complicated structure. It is never the same and once you start looking at it, you usually find layers.
He has been found twice with a belly full of Heroin. He has been hospitalised both times. He never names anyone. And he will now serve another prison sentence because of this.
His exploitation of others is unacceptable, and he should be punished.
But shit man…. when did we stop looking at him as a victim?
Maybe it was the first time he was found with a belly full of Heroin….