“To keep safe from sexual exploitation you should have a trusted person, be educated, have more friends than money, work, be a warm, spiritual person and belief in something, have interesting free time activities, protect your social media account, not attend a meeting alone with a stranger met online, be able to say no if adults such as teachers or trainers want something that you don´t want to”.
These and many more ideas were shared by 81 young people in 8 groups and 24 workshops in Varna with their peers, peer mentors and senior mentors. They played role games and discussed scenes of sexual exploitation from our HOPE-partner BILD in the UK as well as from their own context. They learned from their peer mentors that prevention from sexual exploitation does not mean to become fearful and withdraw from social life but be open for relationships and ready to help whilst being aware of certain risks and how to minimize them.
The settings of the workshops with young people were a vocational school for woodworking that caters for young people with special learning needs, Roma and others; Otec Paisii, a school in Maksuda, a socially segregated Roma quarter of Varna; a family type centre for abandoned children; and non-formal settings from Social Association St. Andrew’s (SASA) youth work in socially segregated Roma communities in Maksuda and Lyuben Karavelovo with the cooperation of the Sauchastie Association. They worked through the HOPE project’s workbook, incorporating individual action plans. Peer mentors were of empathic assistance to the young participants.
The Bulgarian version of the workbook is based upon the use of “dictionaries” (autograph book, poetry album, notebook with questions for and popular among children and adolescents) and intends to be both accessible and easy to complete. It also contains a self-assessment of the risk of sexual exploitation for the young person, using the traffic light system.
Targeting 27 professionals in 3 groups and 4 workshops to include stakeholders from specialist and community services has included working with member organisations of the National Network for Children based in Varna, including the regional coordinator. In addition, it has been important to involve the parents with children with disabilities who have founded the organisations that work in the sector and who recognise a need in the sexual education of their children. After the training, staff of a secondary school boarding house recognised the need to raise awareness among its 150 residents, especially those at risk of sexual exploitation and substance abuse. Whilst working on their organisational action plans, staff members also reflected on how they could reach structural improvements.
The staff of the Otec Paisij School was keen to listen to the experience of the HOPE team, which during the last school year has worked with the pupils. Teachers of the qualification course "civil education" within their further education at the university department were trained on prevention work against sexual exploitation, applying the project resources. The international HOPE-project team with representatives from BILD (the British Institute of Learning Disabilities), EASPD (the European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities) and Social Association St. Andrew were invited to meet with Svetlana Koeva, Directress of the Municipal Prevention’s Directorate, and her colleagues in Varna to discuss how the HOPE project’s work could be sustained and incorporated in the local and national initiatives.
Social Association St. Andrew