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“I will do everything within my power to safeguard or prevent the abuse of a child” – CSE Prevention Officer and Coordinator Androulla Nicolaou talks about her role

“I will do everything within my power to safeguard or prevent the abuse of a child” – CSE Prevention Officer and Coordinator Androulla Nicolaou talks about her role

By Androulla Nicolaou

I am originally from Cyprus and I served as a Sergeant in the Cyprus Armed Forces from 1991 to 2000. I moved to Bristol in 2003. People that know me say I am loud, crazy, sociable and will fight my corner for the wellbeing of the children.

I joined Avon and Somerset Police in March 2004 on a temporary contract in the Child Protection Team. I became a permanent member of staff in November 2004 and since then I’ve been working within the Child Protection arena.

Like lots of jobs this area of work is very challenging, stressful, and demanding. There have been times in the past that I’ve been in tears and tempted to take children home with me to keep them safe. When I read or hear the stories from children who have been taken advantage of and neglected I am both surprised, and amazed with their strength. I feel very privileged to work for Avon and Somerset Police who allow me to make a difference to children’s lives.

Since starting in 2004 I made a promise to myself, which I have always kept in the back of my mind: “I will do everything within my power to safeguard or prevent the abuse of a child”.

I make this promise to them because when I was 2 ½ years old I became a refugee in my own country. Overnight I lost my home, clothes and had no food. But I did have my loving family and people to help us. We survived and this experience made me stronger and more determined to help every child out there who needs it.

March 18th is National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day. Thousands of children and young people are being exploited both sexually and criminally in communities across the country and we all have a role to play in stopping it. As well as most importantly preventing it happening in the first place.

Due to a number of cases of child exploitation we’re working hard to increase people’s awareness of the warning signs and the steps someone should take if they suspect it’s happening to a child. Many of the cases in our force area have been linked with businesses such as fast-food outlets as meeting places, and offenders have used taxi firms and hotel rooms to facilitate and conduct abuse, sometimes after dark.

People working within these industries can play a hugely important role in helping to secure the safety and wellbeing of their customers. They are in a unique position to spot the signs of child exploitation and they have a duty to pay attention when something doesn’t seem right, passing their concerns on to a senior members of staff and in turn the police – potentially saving a child from this horrendous crime.

Exploited children are often terrified and usually too scared to speak out for themselves and ask for help. Taxi drivers, for example, are able to overhear conversations or see behaviour they believe to be suspicious and also notice when passengers are transporting young people between hotels or overnight accommodation at strange times of the day. Bar staff also need to let us know if they suspect child exploitation is happening and raise the alarm if necessary.

We know these people are in the places we can’t always be and can offer valuable insight to what criminal activity is going on behind closed doors. I was happy to welcome key people to a CSE awareness day at Avon and Somerset Police HQ on Wednesday March 13th where guest speakers including Barnado’s, Unseen and a previous victim of exploitation were given a platform to talk about the issue and share insight. We want people to feel empowered to say no to a customer who is perhaps refusing to show ID or pay in a way that can’t be traced back when booking a hotel room. Or if a taxi driver notices a young person displaying adult behaviour towards another older passenger they could make conversation, ask questions and call information into the police on times and locations where the passengers have been dropped off.

That’s why we put together guidance materials for hotels, licensed premises and taxi/private hire vehicles and made these available for free. We hope that this day will help start a conversation and get everyone thinking more about spotting the signs of child exploitation and reporting any concerns to a trusted adult (if they’re a child themselves) or directly to the police if they feel comfortable doing so.

You can show your support by sharing posts on social media using the main hashtag #CSEDay19, we’re also encouraging users of Instagram to share a red tile as a sign of support for the day.

For further information on CSE please visit our microsite https://www.thisisnotanexcuse.org/child-sexual-exploitation/

 

Find out more about CSE and how to report here.

 

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