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OPCC and MCF online abuse conference heralded educational and inspirational
The Bedfordshire Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) and the Marie Collins Foundation (MCF) hosted a one day conference on online sexual abuse and exploitation of young people which has been described by attendees as “educational and inspirational”.

The ‘Discovery to Recovery – Online Sexual Abuse of Children’ conference allowed practitioners, and those working in the field, to hear about innovations in the UK for preventing and deterring sexual images of children online, and learn about helping parents better protect their children as well as encouraging young people to be safe whilst using the internet. Attendees were also given the opportunity to hear from survivors of abuse, and parents whose children have been groomed online.

The conference organised and hosted by the OPCC and MCF, was held in Bedford on Wednesday 13 December, and was attended by frontline practitioners from the Police, local authorities, health agencies and charitable organisations. It featured highly experienced speakers including Bedfordshire Police’s Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Jackie Sebire, CEO of the Marie Collins Foundation Professor Tink Palmer MBE, and OPCC Director of Victims Services and Commissioning Bethan West who said: “It was an insightful day for all partners, led by the Marie Collins Foundation and the OPCC.

“The day included speakers from organisations who shared their expertise from working locally, nationally and internationally on cyber grooming. Of particular interest was the moving account from the father of a victim of online grooming, who told the audience that they must put the victim and their families at the heart of every intervention we do to support them to cope and recover.”

The Marie Collins Foundation (MCF), a children’s charity in the UK devoted to helping children and their families who have suffered online sexual abuse and exploitation, have a ground breaking partnership to pilot a new programme that will train front-line workers to help children harmed in this way across Bedfordshire in 2018.

Commenting on the conference Victoria Green, Director of Strategy and Development at the Marie Collins Foundation, said: “We were delighted to partner with the OPCC of Bedfordshire to hold this conference, which brought frontline professionals together to hear about the latest developments and best practice in this field.

“Online abuse has a distinct impact upon, and can do particular harm to, victims and their families. Disclosure or discovery of these crimes requires specific handling with regard to the welfare of victims. We work with them and help them move on to lead safe and fulfilling lives.

“Our innovative partnership in Bedfordshire will ensure that professionals have the necessary skills as individuals, and are also equipped to work together, to assist children from initial contact, through the legal process and beyond in their recovery.”

Over 200 people from across the county attended the event with the ambition to learn more about improved practices and meet with others working in their field to better understand what can be done to improve safety for children and eradicate online abuse.

After presenting at the conference ACC Jackie Sebire said: “Online grooming and online child sexual abuse is a very real issue and one we are committed to tackling.

“We’ve seen a number of really positive results recently in this area and we are determined to carry on our fight against these dangerous sexual predators, while providing the best possible protection and support to victims.

“The conference was a great opportunity for people across Bedfordshire to gain a better understanding of this important issue, and we’re really looking forward to developing our relationship with the Marie Collins Foundation.”

Attending the conference was Zohra Zaman, (a senior teacher and safeguarding officer at St. Lawrence Church of England Primary School), who commented on the event saying: “Thank you for an educational and inspirational day that has definitely given me food for thought and several ideas on how to best tackle difficult conversations.”