Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird QC, has told ITV News Tyne Tees that an interactive education workshop she introduced as a result of Operation Sanctuary has already led to several new disclosures by children of sexual abuse.
The Commissioner has presented what she calls Project Sanctuary 'Safety Works' to the Prime Minister and the force’s approach to preventing grooming has attracted national recognition.
One Newcastle councillor says he wants the workshops offered to more people in the community as the city tries to learn the lessons of a Serious Case Review, published on Friday.
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When Northumbria Police discovered Newcastle’s West End had a major issue with child sexual exploitation and grooming in 2014, Operation Sanctuary commenced. The police and partner authorities realised they had to learn the lessons of these crimes and they had to find innovative ways to prevent and tackle it.
This involved investigating, prosecuting and disrupting perpetrators, but it also meant they had to carry out early morning raids on people who were allegedly exploiting vulnerable adult and children, clamp down on rogue and illegal taxi drivers, and work with businesses and staff who work in the city’s nighttime economy.
It also meant introducing Safety Works. Jointly run by the police, the police and crime commissioner’s office and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, it is based in an old warehouse in the Benwell area of the city and the workshops are presented by specially trained PCSOs.
Vera Baird, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, said it was working already:
She said: "It seems clear that they are striking home. If somebody has only met our PCSOs who are delivering this on that occasion and feels the confidence to say to them ‘I’m a bit worried about this’ already, then hopefully, that means they are awake to what might be happening and they are likely to confide in a trusted adult, like a teacher or perhaps a parent. We’ve actually had one or two disclosures in safety works from young people who are either being abused or who’ve been frightened that they might be."
Safety Works involves children and teenagers roleplaying certain scenarios in special settings. There is one based at a house party, one in a bedroom, one in a city street setting, one at a Metro station and so on.
The children are given special beer and drugs goggles which make navigating around the sets difficult, thus creating a sensation that they are not in control of themselves.
The key to these safety works is that the children are put into a real life scenario with a real life setting and they have to make decisions which could ultimately help protect them in the real world if they ever find themselves in a difficult situation which could make them vulnerable to grooming.
The workshops could not be more important, as the PCSOs who deliver the programme say many of the children are ignorant to the dangers of grooming when they arrive.
PCSO Claire Jones, of Northumbria Police, said: the youngsters grasp the severity of the situation very quickly.
Upon hearing about this programme, councillor for Elswick, Dipu Ahad, has suggested Safety Works could be rolled out to more people, including adults, community leaders, faith and non-faith leaders.
This is one subject he would like to address when he brings together influential people for a meeting to discuss how the community in the Westend can address the findings of the Serious Case Review.
He said: "Community leaders, faith leaders have a massive role to play in bringing people together and addressing these issues, maybe Friday sermons or in smaller gatherings.
"I think it’s important to get faith leaders, as well as influential people, including women’s groups, to participate or take up this training, so it makes them aware in the future of how to deal with certain situations and actually what goes on with these groomers and in their minds."