I had no idea my 16 year old son Lee was being criminally exploited by gangs until he went missing for four days.
Promised £2,000 to help out a so called “friend”, he was coerced to take a train to South of England to deliver some drugs. He thought he would just deliver the package and be home soon.
Michelle, Lee's Mum
But this decision put his life at risk and those he cared about.
Me, my husband and his younger sister. He was sent to a filthy flat where there were people taking drugs. He was not allowed to leave until all the drugs had been sold.
He saw things in that flat no young boy of his age should see. With phone calls coming in every few minutes he didn’t have time to sleep, wash or eat for days. On the last day, he got robbed and his “friend” dropped the bombshell that Lee wasn’t going to be paid.
In fact, he was now in debt to the gang his friend was part of. And if he didn’t find a way to repay this debt, our whole family would be at risk.
This is the harsh reality of children who are coerced and groomed into running county lines.
With no means to pay off the debt, Lee was threatened with extreme violence and abuse. And if he didn’t find a way to repay the debt our family faced the same threat. Lee felt his only choice was to run another trip to repay the debt.
That one decision to earn an “easy” £2,000 trapped my son in a cycle of violence and exploitation. He was so traumatised he was having nightmares, flashbacks and was too scared to leave the house. We never thought our little boy Lee would be the story you are reading today. But child criminal exploitation can happen to anyone.
His story is one of many. And one story is too many.
We wish we had recognised the warning signs earlier before it was too late. We wish he had someone to prevent him getting into it and help him get out of it. Someone to say “I’ve been there and trust me, these people aren’t your friends”
I am pleased to say that he has now turned his life around. Lee is now a St Giles caseworker dedicated to travelling across the country to prevent and rescue young people, just like him, from getting into and out of these situations.
Each year Lee and his colleagues support 4,500 young people facing criminal and sexual exploitation build a sense of safety and security. They use their professional expertise and lived experience to inspire resilience and show young people there is a safe way out. Afterall he is living proof it is possible to turn his past into a positive future.
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