Highly personal accounts by young people from Leeds who have experienced child sexual exploitation form the basis of a new exhibition which has gone on show in the city.
In Our Own Words uses direct quotes along with photographs of eyes and mouths to explore the process of this form of exploitation (CSE) and the impact it has on both young people and their families.
It is one of the key strands in a two-week campaign by Leeds charity Basis Yorkshire in the run-up to the national CSE Awareness Day on March 18.
Carwen Jones, of Basis Yorkshire, said: “We still feel it’s very much misunderstood. Although it’s in the media and programmes like Coronation Street, there’s a lot of myths – that it only happens to girls, that it’s only groups of males or Asians that do it. That’s not the reality or what we see.
“People think it happens in places like Rochdale or Newcastle, but it happens in Leeds, it happens in towns and villages.”
As a young persons outreach worker, she provides intensive one-to-one support to girls involved in CSE or who are at medium to high risk.
The charity also runs an ex-service users group called The Lionesses for girls at low risk or no longer at risk.
Its members have played a key role in the exhibition and campaign, along with other service users and Ruth Shepherd, a Leeds University student on placement with Basis.
This is a way of getting their voices out there and heard.Amber Wilson, of Basis Yorkshire
“They want to use their experience for some good I think,” Carwen said. “It’s a way for them to move on as well.”
Colleague Amber Wilson added: “This is a way of getting their voices out there and heard. It’s more inspiring than professionals talking about it. It’s much more impactful.”
The free exhibition is at Shine in Harehills until March 18, with an event on Wednesday offering people the chance to hear directly from survivors.
Other campaign events include visits to a secondary school and a fundraising stall in the city centre today.
Amber said: “More funding would always help. This awareness work is all done on a shoestring, but it’s so, so important.”
To donate £5, text donate please text BYYP18 £5 to 70070.
Anyone wishing to support the campaign is also encouraged to take a picture of a message written on their hand and tweet it using #itsnotyourfault.