Rape and ripping out fingernails: the extraordinary violence used by county lines gangs to exploit children

Drug trafficking images - Marie-Reine Mattera / Getty
District border gangs are increasingly using violence to exploit boys and girls, including removing their fingernails, frontline medical workers report.
Hospital staff told researchers that they are now treating victims of violence in the circles who had suffered multiple injuries, while previously they may have only been admitted with one or two.
These included pulling fingernails, tearing hair off the head, and multiple stab wounds, according to the Nottingham University Rights Lab report, based on interviews with frontline staff.
“While you may have seen an injury or two on a young person prior to Covid-19, you are now being repeatedly stabbed. So we're talking about five or six times as much as the average number of stab wounds, ”said a youth worker in the accident and emergency department of a hospital.
There was also evidence that gangs used sexual violence for control. Youth workers described the use of “gift girls”, in which victims are sexually exploited and passed on as a reward in the broader gang network.
Another hospital youth worker reported an increase in the number of young men aged 21 or younger who went to the emergency room and were raped by members of the county line gangs.
The researchers said the increase in violence was related to an increase in the number of young people linked to the gangs, who injured themselves or attempted suicide.
A frontline agent told researchers about a youth who was heavily involved in the county lines and hospitalized for trying to drink a quart of bleach after refusing to join the other members in a gang rape.
"When he refused to interfere, they beat him up and now they were after him because he didn't want to get involved in this gang rape," said the worker.
Young women were particularly vulnerable to online grooming, where they were forced to take and share explicit pictures of themselves.
The researchers said it was unclear whether this was related to sexual or criminal exploitation, but they attributed increasing cases of self-harm in young women to the phenomenon.
A youth worker said that "pop-up brothels" were run by the gangs, a trend they hadn't seen before the Covid-19 pandemic. The victims were usually young British girls.
Dr. Nottingham University research fellow Ben Brewster said the results were "extremely worrying".
"Coupled with the fact that the ability of professionals to identify signs of exploitation and protect vulnerable young people is hampered by the restrictions of Covid-19, this is a very alarming picture," he said.

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