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Avon and Somerset Police and charity partners host Exploitation and Violence Awareness Conference for teenage girls

Girls from local secondary schools were invited to Avon and Somerset Police headquarters last month for an educational workshop to increase their awareness and understanding of exploitation and sexual violence.

Seventy girls in Years 10 and 11 at Norton Hill School, Montpelier High school, Blaise High School, Chew Valley School, Westhaven School, Gordano School and The Blue School attended the Exploitation and Violence Awareness Conference on Friday 20 October, which was organised by Avon and Somerset Police in partnership with charities Safelink, Integrate UK, Unique Voice, and Crimestoppers.

The workshop included presentations and activities around important topics such as online safety and consent. Assistant Chief Constable Joanne Hall and Detective Superintendent James Riccio both gave talks about their roles, and the part the police play in safeguarding women and girls.

ACC Joanne Hall explained her role as force lead for Violence Against Women and Girls

Crimestoppers UK introduced the attendees to Fearless, its dedicated platform to enable young people to provide information about crime 100 per cent anonymously.

Integrate UK presented a short film on recognising the signs of grooming and exploitation, while Safelink charity led a discussion about the law in relation to consent and sexual violence.

The workshop also provided essential advice on how victims of exploitation can access support from the police and partner agencies, and provided the girls with the opportunity to offer their views about how the police can better support them.

The event was a resounding success, leaving a lasting impact on the attendees. Here’s what some of them had to say:

“I learned about apps that can keep me safe… I feel more confident.”

“It was really fun, thank you so much. I know so much more now.”

“Really informative and relevant. I liked the group work and talking to other school groups. It was good to hear information related to the law and how police can totally support women and girls no matter what or when.”

“Very good and educational; would love to work here one day.”

For many, the highlight of the day was the police dog show, where the girls observed police dogs and their handlers, gaining insights into the crucial work they perform daily.

The attendees had the chance to see our police dogs in action

Darcey Warren, Communication and Youth Engagement Apprentice at the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, also attended the event. She said:

“The conference covered subjects that a lot of young people find tricky to talk about. It encouraged open discussion and normalised the issues that are important to speak up about.  It was interesting to see how many things were discussed that we wouldn’t normally learn about in schools and enabled everyone to take away some amazing advice and contacts, if they are ever needed.”

Androulla (Andri) Nicolaou, who works as a Prevention Officer and Coordinator on the Child Sexual and Criminal Exploitation Team (known in Avon and Somerset as Op Topaz) said:

“Recent research suggests that as many as 60,000 girls in England are vulnerable to serious violence and that many of these girls are likely to also be at risk of sexual or criminal exploitation. They are at risk of being groomed into carrying drugs and knives or being sexually exploited as a result of involvement in gangs.

“This event was a collaborative effort involving local schools and partner organisations to engage girls in important discussions about the importance of consent, and helping them to recognise what grooming, exploitation and sexual violence can look like. I’m heartened that the girls who attended have reported feeling more informed and confident thanks to the information they’ve been given.

“I’d like to express my sincere thanks to the schools, charity partners and all the officers and staff who helped make it such a success.”

For information about the signs of CSE, alongside links to help and support, visit www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/cse.

Advice, support services and a downloadable leaflet for partners is also available via www.thisisnotanexcuse.org/child-sexual-exploitation.

More information about County Lines exploitation can be found at Help spot county lines exploitation | Avon and Somerset Police