More than 100 attend first session of gangs awareness workshop run by detective

Detective Anoushka Dunic - currently deployed with the Gangs Engagement Team across the East Area -

East Area Detective Anoushka Dunic ran the first session of a gangs and exploitation workshop on Thursday night. Picture: Anoushka Dunic - Credit: Anoushka Dunic

The first session of a detective-led gangs and exploitation awareness workshop was attended by more than 100 parents and carers across Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge. 

Hosted by East Area gang engagement officer Det Con Anoushka Dunic, the course returned on Thursday night (January 14) after its previous successful outing demanded a comeback.

The first of three sessions - to run on consecutive Thursdays - focused on what gangs are, what they do, and how they do it. 

In response to each question, parents and carers submitted answers in the chat function.

When asked for the definition of a gang, the common consensus was that it's a grouping of individuals brought together by different factors. Amongst the motivations suggested by the group was boredom, a desire to belong and to have life direction. 

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There was then a general discussion about what gangs do - notably around the selling of drugs. Det Con Dunic was frank in her assessment: "Gangs are a business."

As with any business, employees - members in this case - are required. A key part of recruitment is communication, with language crucial.

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The detective said: "As parents, it's really important that we know about the slang being used."

She explained that because language is specifically crafted to create a "secret society" of sorts, it's vital that parents and carers can decipher what is being said.

At this point the group took part in an interactive translation exercise, where two individuals were asked to read and translate a sentence which could conceivably be said or written to their child.

After looking at the language used by gangs, Det Con Dunic explained part of the recruitment model through showing an interview with a Roadman.

This is someone who runs drugs on the roads, and it isn't considered a complimentary term.

Their significance to the recruitment process lies in the fact that they exert huge influence over young people who are being targeted.

In the video, the Roadman - much to the group's anger - openly admits how young people are targeted and enlisted into gangs.

He uses words and phrases such as "tainted" and "easy option" to reveal how older members purposely pick out vulnerable children, before luring them in with the promise of prosperity that would otherwise be impossible.

That lure, according to the Roadman, is so strong that most warnings will be ignored. They offer these young people more money than they could ever earn in a "legitimate life'" but simply fail to tell them that it comes at a huge price.

Words such as disturbing and shocking featured in the parents' and carers' reactions to this video.

The group was particularly angry at the Roadman's "hypocrisy"; he's willing to subject another person's child to this, but doesn't want such a life for his own children.

Another aspect of business is expansion - gangs are no different. At this point Det Con Dunic moved on to discuss County Lines, where gangs move out of the city in an effort to become the dominant drug dealer in a less saturated area. 

This creates a number of risks, not least in the transportation of drugs. The detective explained a scenario in which a young person gets stopped by police or is robbed. In both situations they will be deemed to have lost the drugs, and will be indebted.

This debt bondage - sometimes facilitated by a robbery set up by the gang itself - is designed to tighten the grip on a young person.

Every aspect of gang recruitment relies on there being a power imbalance. The last part of the session looked at how this is exploited for both child criminal and child sexual exploitation. 

Whether a young person needs something material, or simply gives the impression that they want to feel special, that power imbalance is detected and preyed upon.

This is done in the knowledge that, once enlisted, it's incredibly difficult for a young person to escape.

Amongst the questions posed by parents and carers were: 

"Is this included on the school curriculum?"

"Why can this not be policed more?"

"What plan does the government have to deal with such people?"

Those issues, alongside the role played by stress and childhood trauma, are to be explored further in next week's session.

For further information, please email

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