C.A.T.: the Preston company out to fight Child Sexual Exploitation
In the run-up to Christmas last year, Karen Livesey - the owner and founder of C.A.T. (Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Training) - was in Milton Keynes training 1,200 taxi drivers in safeguarding and to spot cases of county lines and Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) more effectively.
“It’s all about a duty of care,” said Karen. “Taxi drivers are highly likely to either have people in their cars or see things which are part of the gang-related exploitation.”
The training paid off.
While she was there, one of the drivers reported that a young girl in school uniform was going to the train station alone.
“The driver told his wife who told the police and they intercepted the child. It turns out she was being used to transport drugs and as part of CSE,” explained Karen, 57, from Preston. “I had a few drivers come up and shake my hand and say thank you.”
The Department of Education defines CSE as ‘a form of child abuse’ which ‘occurs when an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate, or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator.’
Also encompassing digital abuse across mediums such as social media, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) estimates one in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused and that over 90% were abused by someone they knew.
The number of CSE victims counselled by Childline rose 16% in the past year, an increase attributed to both greater awareness leading to more children getting in contact and to the proliferation of online abuse.
Started almost three years ago, Preston-based C.A.T. aims to educate people about CSE, highlighting the importance of adult awareness and teaching the telltale signs of abuse via the medium of interactive training workshops centred on group work, presentations, activities, and discussions to promote clear preventative action.
“Any new business takes time and energy to get going, but it’s moving,” said Karen, a qualified teacher who was inspired to start the company three years ago whilst undertaking a post-grad course in leadership and management at UCLan. “The response has been really positive.”
Having spent 26 years working with children, young people, and families with myriad different issues and needs in her job as an Advanced Practitioner with Lancashire County Council,
Karen said: “During my time at the council, I became aware of more and more CSE issues. With my passion, my training in CSE, and my experience, I just thought ‘I’m going to do this’.”
With many companies having their own internal protocol, Karen has widened C.A.T.’s scope to work with more volunteers, parents and carers, and people working in special CSE homes.
Last year, she also won a Propeller Business Enterprise Award from UCLan for her initiative involving training volunteers to become CSE-aware champions working in vulnerable communities.
“There is no typical class, culture, or age for victims of CSE,” Karen said. “It’s all about an imbalance of power.
“We often think of the victims of exploitation as being typical cases - poorly parented, from a poor economic background, lacking attention, and likely to be young girls,” added Karen, who has worked with ‘Safe & Sound – Just Whistle’ CSE specialists and Pace (Parents Against Child Exploitation). “But kids from primary school right up to the age of 17 are also very vulnerable.
“Perpetrators know this and exploit them.”
Earlier this year, Karen fulfilled a life-long dream of working with Barnardo’s, becoming an Associate Trainer with the charity, and says that she’s relishing her work. “I am so proud to be a Trainer for Barnardo's" she said. “I’ve been an educator for 30-odd years and I really enjoy it.
For further information on C.A.T. visit www.cse-awareness.co.uk.