Despite increased awareness around drug dealing and child exploitation, too often, the voice of the young person is lost and not heard.
So we have spoken to a teenager in Wiltshire, whose identity has been protected for their safety, to understand the issues from their perspective after they got pressured into drug dealing at the age of 14.
This is a unique look at how any child in the county could get caught up in drug dealing, feel pressured and scared for their own life by those controlling them, and advice to their peers on how to steer clear of the dangers.
How did it start for you and when did you get caught up in drug dealing?
How it really started was, I was hanging around with some mates and I didn’t think anything of it.
One day, we went into one of their houses and it was at that point I saw a lot of things. They told me then that they smoked weed. I was sat in the house and they offered me a blunt. They told me they needed to go and meet a couple of people and if I wanted to earn myself a tenner? They asked me to take a package and when I came back they gave me the money.
At 14, I thought it was easy money to be making walking around the estate.
How did it make you feel?
I did that a couple of times and they started saying that I was doing well so I might as well take some for myself and make my own money.
I was doing it well and I was seeing a lot of money out of doing nothing. It made me feel good about myself. If you think, I’m 14 and I’m running around with money, nice clothes, buying new things every now and then, it makes you feel good about yourself but it wasn’t long before I realised it wasn’t so good.
Did you think you were doing anything wrong?
It felt like I wasn’t causing any harm to anyone. I didn’t even think about the police side of it. I was never in trouble with the police at that point. At that time, the police were a rare thing and there weren’t many of them about or very rarely you would see a police car.
They were always praising you for the things that you’d done. For example, if you’ve gone out and you’ve gone to someone and got £100 off them, then you come back and they praise you and tell you that you’re doing great and to keep it up.
It didn’t feel like a job. It just felt like a normal thing. I was in school 15 minutes a day and used to come home and have nothing better to do. I would go and sit in a house with people who I thought were my mates and we’d always be out doing things. We weren’t out doing things we should be doing, we were out doing things that we shouldn’t be doing but you didn’t really realise it at the time.
Who got you involved?
They were my friends from primary school but they were from an older year so I used to look up to them a lot at school and when you start hanging around with them, you feel accepted. You then get introduced to more things.
At what stage did you realise it was getting serious?
You think everything is going well and they are telling you that but really you are just digging yourself a deeper hole. They just want you to keep selling more. Say you had a half ounce, and you say, ‘that’s all I’m doing and I’m stopping after that’ because you have got yourself the money you need - they won’t let you stop.
They are tricking you because you are making money back off what you are selling and you’re always owing them something. It got to the stage when I wasn’t just selling cannabis. They know that you’re a little kid and you’re not going to say no.
At what point did you realise you were in too deep and wanted to get out?
I wasn’t able to walk down the street to the shops without worrying. I would see a white van and worry because someone would have said to me, ‘I’ll put you in the back of a van’. So, every time I’d see a white van I’d worry and start running or hide somewhere.
When I said that I wasn’t going to do it any more, I had a photo sent to me saying they are coming through my front door. After that, I said that I couldn’t do it anymore.
I still get abuse to this day for it but I am doing better than they are now, I’ve got myself a job, I work full time and I am earning better money than I ever would be running and selling drugs for them.
You think you’re in a good place and they keep telling you that you’re fine but when it comes to the time, you’re never going to be correct because they hold a debt over you. You don’t get anything good out of it.
What was the impact on your family and friends?
I fell out with all of my friends. I also pushed my family out. I used to think that the people I ran drugs for needed me all the time and it was the right thing to be doing and I’d push my family away and never used to spend time with them.
Looking back now, I realise that was wrong and your family is your number one. I was scared. I thought these boys were cool but then all of a sudden they just switch on you for no reason or because you didn’t want to do it anymore or be in that environment.
This isn’t just a local problem, have you been asked to move drugs across the country?
I’ve been to London before, Swindon, Birmingham, I’ve been loads of places, Southampton, Bournemouth, loads of places for what essentially is a bit of pocket change that could get you however many years behind bars.
When you could wake up in the morning, half six or seven, go out, come home at four and at the end of month you’ve got over a grand in the bank account for actual hard work that you’ve grafted for. It feels so much better.
How did you get out?
I isolated myself, I came away from it all and I started working, that’s really how I got out of it. It would probably be hard for other people because it won’t fall in their lap like it did for me.
I’ve tried helping some of my mates that are into it but they don’t listen and they think they know what is best. At a young age, you do think that you know what is best but you don’t really.
I was lucky I had the support of my family. I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for them.
How do we stop people getting caught up in this?
My advice would be to listen to your family and to speak to your family if there is an issue.
Staying in school is also important. I realise, since I left school, that is one of the things you need in life. Without any GCSEs or qualifications, I haven’t got anything from school, it’s hard to get a job. I couldn’t go and get another job now, there is no way I could do it. I think schools play such an important role in this. I think they need to give a lot more support. I used to be that kid who just sat on my phone and refused to do anything and because I was difficult I used to just get sent home and that’s when I had that free time to kill.
The thing is, it is always going to be more than a quick bit of cash or a quick bit of smoke. It will lead to getting badly hurt, into major debt or being locked up behind bars, it’s as simple as that. You are never got to succeed from doing it, you are always going to get caught that one time and it will be you who pays the price, not those making you do it.
It’s nice to know that you can go out and you don’t have to look over your shoulder. It is good to feel away from it.
If you have concerns about a young person you know who you believe it at risk of exploitation, please tell someone. You can read more about how to spot the signs, and the support that is available, here.