Young people can visualize the bad effects of criminal life through VR, Source:

Rotterdam teaches youth about the dangers of drug dealing life with virtual reality

Rotterdam teaches youth about the dangers of drug dealing life with virtual reality

Europe’s main port city has a very local problem called “cocaine collectors”

You’ve likely never heard of the term “cocaine collector” and you might be wondering what it refers to. However, for the police and workers at the Port of Rotterdam, considered the largest in volume and size in all of Europe, the term is all too familiar as it describes specially recruited young people whose job is to clandestinely retrieve drug packages from marked shipping containers.

Being a cocaine collector has become something of an entry-level position for many marginalized youngsters (sometimes as young as 14) in the world of organized crime. It is also potentially dangerous and disruptive, not only for the youth but also for the port workers.

With that context in mind, the Rotterdam Municipality and police have initiated an education programme to teach youth at school about the dangers of living a criminal life. What’s unusual about this project called Coco (COcaine COllectors) is the use of virtual reality (VR) glasses through which a user can play out the scenario of being recruited into organized crime and experience first-hand the consequences of such a life choice.

Realistic crime, realistic consequences

The authorities have decided to use modern technology as an aid that can visualize what living as a criminal can be and how it’s not as innocent or fun as one might imagine it to be.

Young people can make different choices in the VR experience. If they come into contact with dangerous recruiters, they really can't go back. 

I was standing in a square with friends. A man who was in an expensive car asked me if I wanted to earn money quickly and easily. He showed a lot of money,” a student by the name of Day describes the VR experience as quoted by the municipal website. “Suddenly I was pressured with a firearm in the street. Someone standing in front of you with a gun is not nothing. It was very realistic. Although I already knew that making money quickly is a bad choice, I can now put myself in the shoes of victims who are recruited by criminals.

Students can also end up being arrested by the police in the virtual world.  The municipality hopes that young people will learn to recognize the false promise of 'earning money quickly' in this way.

Drug collectors are not only a major problem in the port but also in the neighbourhoods of Rotterdam. The recruitment takes place in residential areas, at schools and via social media. If the drug collection fails once, though, there will be consequences and the young person’s life and family can be threatened with violence.

After the VR experience, there is room during the three-hour lesson program to share experiences and feelings.

Still, the issue contains many aspects: economic, social, and legislative. In 2014, the Rotterdam authorities intercepted more than 5,000 kg of cocaine in the port. By 2020 it was a whopping 41,000 kg. In September 2021, 110 collectors were apprehended in the port area in just over a week alone. But unless they are caught red-handed, they only risk a fine of less than 100 euros for trespassing.



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