FRONTLINE police officers have been given a first-hand account of the impact of child sexual exploitation on victims at an awareness and training event.
More than 140 police officers, staff and colleagues from partner agencies attended Dyfed-Powys Police headquarters on Wednesday, May 29, where child sexual abuse activist Sammy Woodhouse spoke of her experience.
Sammy was a victim of the Rotherham child sexual exploitation (CSE) scandal as a teenager, which she helped to expose by giving an anonymous interview to The Times. She now conducts speaking events, explaining to police, social workers, health service staff, and schools how to recognise the signs that someone is being groomed.
She also emphasised the importance of supporting survivors of CSE, and giving them the confidence to move on and live the life they want.
Speaking at the event, she said: “You need to always empower the victim. I’ve been told by professionals that I can’t do something – I wanted to go back to work and I was told ‘no, you can’t do that’, I wanted to go to the gym but I was told ‘no, it’s too much’.
“I’ve always been told I’m damaged, or I’m weakened, that it’s affected me too much, and I understand that what has happened to me has affected me, but there is life after abuse. You have to empower people to go back out there, to get back into their normality.
“It can happen, you can be very successful in work, college, or whatever you want to. The person who can help you the most is yourself, but you need that support around you.”
The CSE awareness and training event was organised as part of an ongoing programme to re-emphasise the importance of knowing the signs of exploitation. Officers and staff were urged to “think CSE” when going about their daily work.
Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Cockwell said: “Our understanding of child sexual exploitation has developed over the last few years, and we all recognise the threat and harm it poses to its victims.
“Police and partners understand it is vital to identify and intervene at the earliest opportunity to protect potential victims.
“We are cognisant that those who are either at risk or who are subjected to CSE often come into contact with our agencies long before CSE is reported, but often victims refrain from disclosing this information. In order for us to intervene at the first opportunity, it is vital that practitioners understand and recognise the signs of CSE.
“The aim of this event is to challenge perceptions of CSE, and to give our officers and staff the knowledge and understanding to identify the signs, which will equip them to instigate an appropriate response and safeguard those at risk.”
As well as hearing from Sammy, there was a screening of Griff’s Story, a short film designed to educate children in Year 6 about the issue of child sexual abuse and exploitation. The film shows the experience of 10-year-old Griff, who attends a Saturday club each week where a member of staff attempts to groom him until another youngster helps him to speak out about the situation.
There was also an interactive performance by theatre practitioners Geese Theatre Company, who created a visual representation of the impact CSE can have. The cast acted out various scenes relating to County Lines, cuckooing, drug abuse and child sexual exploitation.
*Dyfed-Powys Police takes all reports of sexual abuse extremely seriously, and specially trained officers are appointed to investigate and support victims. Anyone who wishes to report offences of exploitation, are asked to contact Dyfed Powys, either by calling 101 or reporting through the online system. If you are at immediate risk of harm, always call 999.
Those who do not wish to report the offences to the police directly may access support through New Pathways on 01685 379 310.