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Monday 14th
posted by Morning Star in Features

IAN LAWRENCE explains why his union is getting behind a school-based campaign to give youngsters the skills to protect themselves

IN 2013 an independent investigation by Professor Alexis Jay into allegations of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham published its finding in the Jay Report.

At the time of the investigation about 154 children had come forward to report current or historical abuse.

The report highlighted shocking abuse suffered by children, including being doused with petrol, being forced to watch violent rapes and being held at gun point.

It also found significant failings across numerous agencies to acknowledge the allegations as serious or to fully investigate them, denying victims both justice and support.

Following the scandal Rotherham MP Sarah Champion has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation.

She is building a campaign for preventative measures in schools to equip young people with the skills they need to protect themselves.

Speaking at the Women in Napo conference earlier this year, Champion highlighted some of her key concerns that had arisen from discussions she’d had with young people in school.
She was stunned at the number of young girls who accepted abuse or violence in their relationships and the general normalising of such behaviour among both boys and girls. (Recent studies into young people’s attitudes to relationship violence has shown 30 per cent of girls think it is acceptable for their partner to be violent or aggressive).

The other worrying issue raised was the impact of social media on young people. There has been a failure to teach young people about how to keep safe online and about the potential lifelong consequences of online postings such as explicit photographs.

This needs to be urgently addressed, not just to keep young people safe but to educate young people to treat each other with respect, what a healthy relationship is and to have the confidence to resist pressure from peers and adults.
Napo has given its initial support to Champion’s campaign — although this is subject to a motion submitted to AGM by campaigning committee — as well as submitting a motion to TUC Congress this year.

Child sexual abuse is an issue that affects all our members, whether they are working with families and children at risk in the family courts or working with perpetrators subject to probation supervision.

But it also affects members directly in their communities and families, and as such we have a societal duty to help protect young people from becoming either victims or perpetrators of the future and not just focus on dealing with perpetrators after the crime has been committed.

A large part of Champion’s campaign is looking at working with young people in schools and youth groups, increasing access to education and support.

Barnardo’s children’s charity recently donated over £3 million to Rotherham to help fund some of the work Champion is promoting.

Napo’s TUC motion supports the objectives of the campaign and Napo hopes to get full support from Congress.

Ian Lawrence is general secretary of Napo.