Other Forms of Exploitation

Although these forms of exploitation do not appear in their own right within the Care Act 2014, they are often linked to other forms of abuse or neglect and it is important to report any suspected activity to the Police or the Local Authority.

County Lines

County lines is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas within the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of “deal line”. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including
sexual violence) and weapons.

Spotting the Signs

  • Persistently going missing or being found out of area
  • Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes, or mobile phones
  • Excessive receipt of texts / phone calls and/or having multiple handsets
  • Relationships with controlling / older individuals or groups
  • Leaving home / care without explanation
  • Suspicion of physical assault / unexplained injuries
  • Carrying weapons
  • Gang association or isolation from peers or social networks
  • Self-harm or significant changes in emotional well-being.


Cuckooing is where a criminal befriends someone who lives on their own. The criminal then moves in and/or uses the property to operate unlawful activity. Victims can often be lonely, isolated and vulnerable.

Spotting the Signs

  • Increase of vehicles stopping at the property, often for short periods
  • Increase of antisocial behaviour around the property
  • Open drug dealing near the property
  • Not seeing the resident of the property as often
  • Increase of the number of people coming and going at various times of the day or night


Grooming is when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or vulnerable adult so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them. People who are groomed can be sexually abused, exploited or trafficked. Groomers may also build a relationship with the person’s family or friends to make them seem trustworthy.

Spotting the Signs

  • Being secretive about how they spend their time, including when online
  • Having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Having money or new things like clothes and mobile phones that they can’t or won’t explain
  • Drinking or taking drugs
  • Spending more or less time online or on their mobile phones
  • Being upset, withdrawn or distressed
  • Sexual behaviour, language or an understanding of sex that does not seem appropriate
  • Spending more time away from home or going missing for periods of time.

Victims are not always aware that they are being exploited. Young people are generally targeted because of their vulnerability, however vulnerable adults can also be targeted. Children who are groomed can grow into vulnerable adults who become more at risk of ongoing exploitation. Being groomed can cause long term psychological damage.

Tricky Friends is a short animation developed to raise awareness of ‘mate crime’, exploitation, cuckooing and county lines.