Thousands of students involved in child sexual exploitation awareness initiative

“You’re never sure how people will react: sometimes you get boys shouting out, sometimes you find girls crying at the end and sometimes there is a stunned silence.”

So says Jasmine Horn, who plays the eponymous character in Chelsea’s Choice, a play highlighting the issues of child sexual exploitation which is currently on a three-week run in schools across Central Bedfordshire.

The play tells the story of a group of three students who discover the diary of a girl called Chelsea. Having fallen out with friends and family, she hooks up with an older man who initially treats her well before revealing his true colours. The story is played out by the three students and their teacher, with regular moments for reflection on what has just taken place and how it could have been prevented.

At the end its run, around 6,000 students in Years 8-14 across Central Bedfordshire will have seen the thought-provoking play by AlterEgo, which is aimed at getting them thinking about making good choices around relationships and staying safe online.

A social worker from Central Beds, as well as a representative from Bedfordshire Police, has been at each performance – allowing children to speak with them privately about any concerns they may have.

The three-week tour is part of a wider campaign which is taking place across Central Bedfordshire, Bedford and Luton. The three councils, together with the three area local safeguarding children boards, Bedfordshire Police, the University of Bedfordshire and Crimestoppers are all working to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation, the signs and where to go if you have a concern.

Sue Harrison, Central Bedfordshire Council’s Director of Children’s Services, said: “I am delighted that so many schools have taken up the offer of hosting performances of Chelsea’s Choice. It is a really hard-hitting play highlighting some very important messages.

“I hope that it has opened students’ eyes to potential risks and made them aware of how they can protect themselves or their friends if they have any concerns.

“Child sexual exploitation is incredibly damaging, which is why a lot of collaborative work is currently taking place to help identify children who are at risk and to bring offenders to justice.”

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Collins of Bedfordshire Police said: “Having seen this play, I know first-hand just how powerful and moving it is, and I believe it’s a great tool in helping us raise awareness of this incredibly important issue.

“Child sexual exploitation is one of Bedfordshire Police’s top priorities and I welcome anything that can help educate people on the signs to look out for, as well as where to go if you have a concern.”

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