A pioneering campaign to tackle child sexual exploitation has launched in Bassetlaw.
The NSPCC, alongside housing project New Roots and Retford Post 16 Centre, are helping young people and professionals to identify grooming behaviour.
The year-long campaign, called ‘It’s Not Ok’, focuses specifically on older teenagers. This age group may not report abuse for fear of not being believed, or because they do not recognise when a relationship is exploitative.
Ally Sultana, the NSPCC’s Midlands Campaigns Manager, said: “This exciting collaborative approach shows how we can protect teenagers both in and outside of the education system.
“Young people need to be able to spot when a relationship is coercive and report concerns. We can’t sit by and hope young people learn this through experience – by then it’s too late. We need to talk about dangers and offer preventative strategies.”
Throughout the year young people identified as being at increased risk of sexual exploitation will have the opportunity to work with specially trained NSPCC staff in group work programmes.
Professionals at New Roots and Retford Post 16 centre will receive online safety training workshops from the NSPCC, learning how to identify risky behaviour and respond appropriately.
For the general public, posters and wallet cards will be issued across the local area, signposting to campaign webpages and the NSPCC Helpline – a 24-hour hotline for reporting child protection concerns.
‘It’s Not Ok’ kicked off with a day of special events at Retford Post 16 Centre.
In a moving personal recount, sexual abuse survivor Sammy Woodhouse spoke to students and New Roots tenants about how she was targeted, manipulated and sexually exploited as a teenager in Rotherham.
Ms Woodhouse, now 32, said: “This was my first time speaking directly to young people about my experiences. By alerting young people to the signs of grooming hopefully I can turn my negative experiences into something positive.
“There is better awareness today but we still have to educate young people, especially now that social media has opened doors for paedophiles and abusers.”
An interactive theatre production – also called ‘It’s Not OK’ - further explored the characteristics of abusive relationships while other launch event speakers addressed the threat posed by online abusers.
Carol Scawthon, CEO of New Roots, said: “The primary aim of this campaign is to increase awareness among young people in a way that if meaningful to them. The theatre performance presented scenarios young people could relate to and having a CSE survivor sharing her own experiences was an incredibly powerful way of getting our message across.”