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County Lines, the real virus affecting our communities

County Lines, Most people like to acknowledge the fact that there are people in and around our communities that deliberately exploit people for their own gains. Hundreds of not thousands of seasoned criminals are looking into the ever increasing trend of County lines.

The fact that young people are fully aware of the implications on getting drawn into county lines, there is a distinct underbelly of people that see it as almost glamorous and a natural part of youth culture.

The intentional manipulation of young people can never be overlooked and passed off as a “thing’. For many victims of county lines and grooming the effects are long term, with many of them servicing debts that they will never be able to pay back.

Popular culture plays a massive part in county lines and grooming because many influencers are openly speaking about finessing young people into a life of crime. This is appalling to think that such media is not only allowed to be part of youth culture, but is openly played on some of the most common radio stations and online channels. The fact is, there is a definite current of young people falling prey to the lifestyle. Many of these a fully unaware of the consequences involved.

Then of course there are the individuals that want to get involved and see it as an active way of making money. They often look at the County lines movement as a rights of passage into the much larger drug distribution rings. This is also an attractive way of influencing other young people to get involved.

But let’s focus more on the people that have been manipulated into these criminal circles. These individuals are often seeking nothing more than friendships. This is why there are so many cases of young people being groomed online.

Threats are common, with many young people receiving threats online or even having images of dead people sent directly to their mobile phone. These threats are usually repeated on a daily basis until the person receiving the threat gives in to his or her manipulator. It is now common for young people to send images of themselves online to virtual friends that use the threat of exposing these images as leverage to gain access to a constant stream of young people.

The stress that this puts an entire family under is immense. With so many young people suffering from trauma and PTSD among other challenges.

Being aware of who your friends are is not enough now, with the increase in virtual ‘pals’ or families that exist outside of the biological construct, the need for young people to connect presents an ever growing challenge of finding true and meaningful relationships.

More recently, we have all seen the video of a young man apparently trying to abduct a school girl. The incident was filmed by a passerby and due to the presence of two members of the public, the man was confronted and later ran off. Now this type of incident happens on a regular basis, with many of the victims abducted and placed into county lines rings or used for sexual exploitation. What is interesting about this is that the existence of this is not a new or recent occurrence, it is an age old problem.

Perhaps the awareness raised by this video will help towards making parents more understanding when it comes to the complexities involved in the deliberate targeting of our youth.

We all have a responsibility to be vigilant in our communities. We cannot make the issue of county lines and child sex exploitation someone else’s problem. We have to all step up,and acknowledge that this is a problem that will never go away, it will simply become more and more intricate and sophisticated the more we bury our heads under the rug to this.

Our youth are the future and we must adopt a strategy of safeguarding them in a society that perceives them as ‘new skins’.

Paul Mckenzie

www.youthunity.org

www.groomsafe.org

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The Social Media Crisis

Social Media Crisis, It’s like an eroding subject that won’t go away. Social media is a massive part of life. It’s become such a large part of our lives that most of us cannot function normally without spending hours each day scrolling through the latest images of celebrity influencers and news fed to us through our mobile devices.

Years ago, I remember the excitement of getting my first mobile phone. The ability to be able to leave the house and take a phone call was like a gift from above. It allowed a freedom in communication that had never been experienced before. We have all seen the early movies of stock brokers and millionaires using these devices, but to have one in my possession was sublime.

The mobile phone revolution evolved so rapidly that it changed the way business and personal communication took place. Financial workforce’s became wizards over night and mobile phone owners literally became the talk of the community.

People would be given an allocated time to make phone calls free of charge during the evening and weekends. It became the craze!

I remember spending hours talking to people I didn’t even like, just because it was available. The fact that I could be away from the landline also meant that I could become creative with my location, it was truly exciting claiming to be in a meeting with exciting new people whilst stuck in my room with my phone stuck to the charger pretending to have a life.

It also meant that there was a sense of being on the road to bigger and better things. For me that feeling was very inspirational and enabling.

Fast forward two decades and it’s a whole new game now. Communication has changed so dramatically that it’s hard to even compare the way we communicate to the past. Our devices have become super small and super smart. There is a whole new generation dependant on the day to day use of massive amounts of data. In fact when I think back to my first phone, I almost miss the feeling of just talking to someone without the trappings of an entire infrastructure designed to keep you engaged and distracted from having a good old fashioned chin wag.

With the introduction of platforms that offered a much more fly on the wall experience of life, we subscribed in the millions the illusion of a more enriched lifestyle. A lifestyle that involved more sharing of private data. At first we revered the early sharers, complimenting them on their bravery and confidence online, only to become addicted to doing the very same thing.

Many of us now spend hours each day searching for the answer to a billion questions, filtering, sharing, liking and disliking information that is accessible in our pockets. We have even become accustomed to asking our handsets for information that we are too tired to try and think of ourselves.

Apps are the way forward now. There is an App for almost everything!they have taken over now and we have become compliant with having screens filled with redundant data collection bots taking and selling our real-time information to larger companies that target us in their massive marketing campaigns. It is not unusual to be bombarded by advertising from companies trying to sell you products or services based on your interactions online.

Our mobile devices have become a goldmine of data being shared around the world to the highest bidder. This is the new normal now.

Yes! As well as the brilliance of us all being connected, there is a very dark side to the new age of communication. We now spend massive amounts of time pretending that our lives are different to what are reality really is. The ugly have become the adorable, the short have become the tall and the beautiful have become influencers to millions.

There is no right or wrong in social media land. Only different. The amount of content that we share every day is truly unimaginable.

People are now motivated to seek likes and shares as a part of their emotional intelligence. Likes and shares have now are the new drug. Without it we easily become withdrawn and rapidly lose confidence in ourselves. The thirst for external gratification has now taken over from the basic need to communicate.

Being comfortable with being followed and liked at the same time has always confused me. Some people have 5000 followers and are the depressed at how many physical friends they have. Eating out alone with nothing other than a smart phone to glare into for interaction.

We have to be careful that we don’t lose the ability to communicate effectively without a shiny smart phone stuck to the palm of our hands.

Social media should enable you to feel free and liberated , and yet there is a definite sense of being held captive. Maybe we should start deleting the people that follow us and start rebuilding our lives with people that actually care about our overall wellbeing. The future will be interesting indeed.

Matt Brown