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  • Sara Chitseko

County Lines: Young victims of exploitation and trafficking treated as suspects, rather than victims

A number of organisations including The Guardian and The Children's Commissioner have raised concerns over young victims of human trafficking being treated as suspects, rather than victims, by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Under The Modern Slavery Act, young people and vulnerable adults that are victims of human trafficking (often through what is referred to as "county lines" operations), have the right to raise a defence which states they were trafficked and forced to commit offences. This should put a halt to any prosecution (The Guardian, 2019).

However, it has recently come to light that many victims are being criminalised, incarcerated and in some cases, even re-trafficked (The Guardian, 2019), rather than being provided with the vital support and aftercare that is needed as a result of what is often sustained and harrowing abuse and exploitation.

The Criminal Prosecution Service have a duty to protect the human rights of victims of human trafficking and it is abhorrent that so many young people are slipping through the system. Vulnerable young people, many of whom have special educational needs and disabilities, are frequently expected to self-identify as victims (The Guardian, 2019). This undermines the very real risk and fear of retribution from traffickers, that many victims face. There is also no guarantee that identifying as a victim will result in adequate protection and safeguarding by the authorities.

Furthermore, there is lack of understanding of the social context that many victims of human trafficking have grown up in. Experiences of poverty, homelessness and serious violence, among other forms of marginalisation contribute to feelings of alienation and have a very real impact on the emotional wellbeing of young people, as well as their basic material needs. This can play a significant role in making young people more vulnerable to exploitation, as traffickers may offer young people money or other material items in order to bring them into illegal activity.

Ultimately, victims of human trafficking are being failed by the Crown Prosecution Service and there is a fundamental responsibility for immediate action to be taken to protect, support and defend their rights. In addition to this, it is time that the government recognised that young people need holistic, long term support imbedded within our communities in order to address trauma, fear, anxiety and other complex needs. Only then will young people be able to thrive, prosper and move forward with their lives.


Marsh, S. (2019). Concerns raised over prosecution of trafficked British children. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/sep/19/concerns-raised-over-prosecution-of-trafficked-british-children [Accessed 16 Oct. 2019].

Mohdin, A. (2019). Child victims of human trafficking prosecuted despite CPS rules. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/sep/17/child-victims-of-human-trafficking-prosecuted-despite-cps-rules [Accessed 16 Oct. 2019].