County Lines / Criminal Exploitation

County Lines is a term used to describe a form of criminal exploitation in which urban gangs exploit vulnerable individuals, often children and young people, to transport and sell drugs in smaller towns and rural areas.

These gangs use dedicated phone lines to communicate with their customers and coordinate drug deals, hence the name “County Lines.”
Criminal exploitation involves using individuals for illegal activities, often through coercion, intimidation, and manipulation.

In the case of County Lines, vulnerable individuals, such as those from disadvantaged backgrounds, those with a history of trauma, or those struggling with substance abuse, are targeted by gangs who offer them money, drugs, or other incentives in exchange for their participation in drug trafficking.

County Lines and criminal exploitation are serious issues that can have devastating consequences for those involved, including physical and mental health problems, criminal records, and the risk of violence and even death. Therefore, it is essential to raise awareness about these issues and work towards prevention and support for those affected.

Any child or adult at risk could potentially be at risk of exploitation and abuse through being trafficked to move and sell drugs.

County Lines gangs and individual perpetrators may sexually abuse, rape and assault children and adults at risk of any gender as part of their criminal exploitation experience.

There is a strong link between county lines exploitation serious violence such as knife and gun crime, the use of substances such as acid as a weapon and homicide

Perpetrators target young people and vulnerable adults at schools, public spaces, homeless shelters and groom them by offering them money, safety and a sense of belonging

It is estimated that at least 46,000 children in England are victims of County Lines. They should be recognised as victims of criminal exploitation and abuse, rather than criminals.

Children and young people are groomed into County Lines by abusers offering them a sense of belonging, money, verbal and physical gifts, and a sense of protection.

Exploited children and young people are trafficked and forced to stay in dangerous properties that have been invaded by criminals, known as “cuckooing”. Our children and young people are forced to stay in these properties for days/ weeks at a time.

Perpetrators develop a relationship with a child or vulnerable adult to enable their abuse and exploitation to happen both online and offline

Right now, children as young as nine are given a phone. Drugs/ sim cards/ mobile phones are forcibly inserted into their bodies. They are sent off on a train and kept in squalid conditions, forced to sell heroin and crack cocaine.

Gangs prey on vulnerable children by offering gifts. Once they’re lured in, children are brainwashed with no obvious way out as gangs blackmail and terrorise them.

Exploitation of children and adults at risk can be hidden – but knowing the signs of the abuse can make it visible.

Online platforms, such as online gaming, social media, messaging and live streaming, can be used to do this.

We are all responsible for the safety and protection of our Children and Young People. We must be aware of the risks and dangers they face in order to keep them safe. It takes a village to raise a child.

Criminal Exploitation is recognised as a part of Modern Slavery in the UK – children are trafficked from one place to another to be exploited and abused and forced to commit crimes. @ItsAPenalty

How do you know if County Lines drug dealing is happening in your area?


Some signs to look out for include:

  • An increase in visitors and cars to a house or flat
  • New faces appearing at the house or flat
  • New and regularly changing residents (e.g different accents compared to local accent
  • Change in resident’s mood and/or demeanour (e.g. secretive/ withdrawn/ aggressive/ emotional)
  • Substance misuse and/or drug paraphernalia
  • Changes in the way young people you might know dress
  • Unexplained, sometimes unaffordable new things (e.g clothes, jewellery, cars etc)
  • Residents or young people you know going missing, maybe for long periods of time
  • Young people seen in different cars/taxis driven by unknown adults
  • Young people seeming unfamiliar with your community or where they are
  • Truancy, exclusion, disengagement from school
  • An increase in anti-social behaviour in the community
  • Unexplained injuries