Sunderland and South Tyneside children learn about healthy relationships and the dangers of grooming and sexual exploitation

Children across the region have been learning about the dangers of grooming, sexual exploitation and what should be expected in a “healthy relationship”.

Friday, 22nd October 2021, 7:11 pm

The Real Love Rocks relationship and online safety lessons have been funded by Northumbria Police Crime Commissioner Kim Kim McGuinness in partnership with the children’s charity Barnardo’s.

The initiative follows on from from over 54,000 testimonies from girls and young women reporting incidents of sexual abuse, harassment and experience of “rape culture” via the website Everyone’s Invited.

The site was established by Soma Sara following her own experiences as a teenage girl at school and university.

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Year 6 pupils at East Herrington Primary Academy are just some of the hundreds of pupils to benefit from the Real Love Rocks programme.

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Following a visit to East Herrington Primary School, where Kim attended a Year 6 session on grooming, the police chief praised the project.

Kim said: “Seeing Real Love Rocks in action was seeing prevention work at its finest. Hats off to Katy who delivered the session – not only was it totally engaging but she really created an environment of trust where young people could speak freely.”

“Young people are growing up online. They’re often far more tech savvy than mum or dad and there are, unfortunately, more and more ways children and young people can become vulnerable to grooming, abuse and child sexual exploitation.

Northumbria Police Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness, is running the Real Love Rocks programme in partnership with the children's charity Barnardo’s to educate children on healthy relationships. Picture by FRANK REID.

“And it’s not just technology that gives rise to these issues – poverty plays a part too as it can lead to all kinds of vulnerabilities. Cuts to youth services, children’s centres, and sexual health clinics – they all have consequences and it’s often the schools and teachers who have to pick up the slack, fulfilling the roles of youth workers and other specialists.

"Real Love Rocks can really plug the gap left by the Government and help support schools in teaching the things children need to know.”

Body autonomy, consensual relationships and recognising ‘early warning signs’ if a child feels unsafe and who they can speak to are just some of the empowering messages from both the online and in-school sessions.

Kim added: “As horrible as matters like grooming and exploitation are, we can’t afford to keep children in the dark and just hope these things never happen to them. We have to prepare them to recognise when something is wrong and give them the confidence to tell a safe adult.

“I really can’t stress enough how important it is to teach kids these messages – we owe it to them to be getting this right. I want to see all schools in our area have adequate funding to provide high quality programmes like this. To me this is basic safeguarding.”

Katy Shipley, Barnardo's Wellness Recovery Project Manager, added: "It has been a pleasure to work with the children at East Herrington Primary and in schools across Tyne and Wear.

"Educating children on the importance of understanding healthy relationships, consent, grooming and exploitation is vital so they can make informed choices.”

Figures from Ofsted recently revealed almost 90 per cent of girls and nearly 50 per cent of boys said being sent explicit pictures or videos was common while 54 per cent of pupils aged 16 and above said unwanted touching occurred frequently.

The figure dropped to 40 per cent when 13 to 15-year-olds were asked the same question.

The programme has already been delivered to hundreds of children in Tyne and Wear.

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