There are, of course, many victim`s during these unprecedented and tragic times, but this week I want to focus on the victim`s of domestic violence and young people exploited through drugs. Firstly, I will mention domestic violence. This is an area of risk that the police and other agencies involved with it, predicted would see an increase in reports as soon as the lockdown was announced. However, it is the unreported cases that are more worrying.
There has been the predicted increase in domestic related cases reported, however, many of these are families struggling to cope with the various difficulties faced with home schooling, parents trying to juggle work and childcare and other pressures, such as financial.
These pressures will lead to arguments, or in some cases, minor assaults, many of which have been reported by someone in the family, or a concerned neighbour. Generally, these incidents are low risk and in many ways, the risk is mitigated because the incident has been reported, which gives the police and other agencies the opportunity to talk to those involved and help to resolve the problems or manage the risk. It is the hidden cases that are of concern. There are many people who live with someone who will abuse them or act in a controlling or coercive way towards them. For these victims, in pre-Covid -19 times, children going to school and their abuser going to work offered a reprieve and an opportunity for support persons to speak to them, but lockdown has fed the perpetrators appetite to abuse, where they have more time and access to their victim.
With lockdown, this has had a double effect; one being that they are exposed to risk constantly and two, there is no support.Not everyone in these circumstances will have the opportunity to get away from the situation, nor feel confident in calling the police, therefore they suffer in silence. The hard thing here is that we know these people exist, but we don`t always know who they are. Also, even if we know of potential victims, making contact carries risk, since their abuser may be aware of any suspicious contact and exercise more control over the victim to prevent themselves from being exposed.
The government`s Domestic Abuse Commisssioner, Nicole Jacobs, has recently spoken about the risks to domestic abuse victim`s during the lockdown period and has said that they should feel able to remove themselves from a situation even if this means breaching the Covid-19 rules. This is helpful, but only if these people have a `plan B`, but it is a positive message nonetheless. The other hidden risk during lockdown is young children who are exposed to county lines drug supply, where virtually all children are no longer at school.
Children of secondary school age will be totally frustrated being at home and those old enough to be independent, will leave their homes with an excuse to their parents that they want to go on a bike ride, or walk. Parents of these teenagers, in some cases, will be pleased to have their children out of the house for a while, but some children are being exposed to the risk presented by those involved in the supply of drugs. Typically, the `hook` offered to a child is `free` drugs to try. Older teenagers will target younger children in this way and make them feel special and befriend them.
Once this trust is developed, the older person will boast about the freedom and money they have and after giving them drugs where no payment was required, they will then ask the child to carry the drugs for them and deliver them. Some children will refuse to do this, but for those who do, they will see a very different side to the older `friend` they have met, where payments will be demanded for the drugs they have been given, which the child cannot afford. They will be threatened with violence, or simply to comply with the request to run the drugs for a network. It happens as simply as this and although these cases will be isolated and vary geographically, they are happening.
Once the child begins to deliver drugs, then they will be trusted by their handler and paid, which leads to a further problem – that of getting them away from this lifestyle and back to school, where children exploited in this way have become known to the authorities. The money involved in drugs is large and even for the child runner, in relative terms, what they receive is massive compared to their peers who survive on pocket money from parents or a weekly paper round payment. Children are impressionable and their minds do not work like that of an adult, so they do not see the bigger picture and therefore the risks they are exposed to. They may become drug addicts themselves, enter the criminal justice system when caught by the police, or a victim of violence, where they can be targeted by other groups. When children are at school, for eight hours Monday to Friday, they are in a safe place and occupied. After school activities or hobbies and interests are their routine, which are all designed to develop them into rounded individuals to progress in life. The current absence of this structure does provide an opportunity for people who will seek to exploit them.
Police patrols are aware of this risk and they will engage with children seen outside and question them about what they are doing, but like domestic victims, these young people will be largely hidden. You can keep up to date with the latest government advice during COVID-19 and keep you and your family safe.
PC 1860 Mark Ranola.
Yateley Police Office.