Working for St Giles Trust (SGT), the presenters all have one thing in common, they have all been victims of grooming themselves.
Coralyn Burge Project Manager at SGT said: “The presenters need to be credible, they need to look and act the part. Their testimonies open the sessions and the children need to buy into that otherwise they won’t listen.
“When children start secondary school in year seven they are vulnerable and they are prime targets for grooming.
“Children from pupil referral units are also at risk, they are often on limited timetables, so they are out of school when other children aren’t around.”
Children are lured in with promises of status or money, and are picked up on social media as easily as on the street, social media is a gateway and it’s not seen as threatening Ms Burge said.
SGT warn children of the dangers of interacting on Snapchat, or commenting on music videos or YouTube, leaving any trace of interest for recruiters to exploit.
Dimitri, one of the facilitators told the pupils that the police were one of their allies.
He said: “Gangs target the type of kids in school that talk when I’m talking, that disrespect their teachers, the young people who are the loudest people in the room. Why? Because they think those people are weak (not cool) half their job is done for them already – in terms of grooming.”
Feedback from pupils has been positive, one pupil said: “I will never allow someone to manipulate me like this, I’ll always try to remember to have three people I can trust.”
Oscar Boud, 12, from Varndean School said: “He was very open about the experiences he’d had in a gang. It made it more believable – everyone was listening, everyone was interested in what he had to say.”
The St Giles Trust works to break down the county lines between London and rural and coastal areas, and the exploitation of young children in the supply of drugs.
Dimitri said: “For every young person that is arrested, harmed or killed by county lines there are five more ready and willing to take their place. Although a large proportion of children are groomed and manipulated towards county lines, there’s another demographic actively moving towards it, that was a real surprise to me.”