School students across Bedfordshire are being encouraged to put their creative skills into tackling violence against women and girls.
The design competition for students across the county is part of a flagship education programme being run by the county’s major Safer Streets project.
The programme will see a toolkit and training on tackling sexual harassment in public places made available to every middle, secondary and upper school in Bedfordshire, as well as colleges.
There will also be a theatre performance focused on the topic at a forthcoming youth conference organised by Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner Festus Akinbusoye.
“There is research that suggests a third of girls experience public sexual harassment while wearing their school uniform. That is totally unacceptable,” said Mr Akinbusoye.
“We have a huge opportunity to change attitudes and behaviour – and our educators can play a big part in that.
“I hope this package of measures can educate young people about this topic and help to raise a generation who are equipped to challenge harassment, to empathise with those who experience it, and who never become perpetrators of this everyday violence and abuse.”
Safeguarding Minister Sarah Dines said: “Violence against women and girls is a heinous crime, and has no place in our society.
“Our Safer Streets Fund has to date awarded £120 million to local authorities and police forces to deliver a range of initiatives which make communities safer for everyone.
“I’m pleased to see pupils in Bedfordshire are getting involved in this work – it’s vital that we educate young people about violence against women and girls, so they can recognise abuse and safely intervene if they see someone in danger.”
The competition is for students to create digital art, short animation and/or a short film to highlight what is inappropriate behaviour and what it would look like from a bystander or a victim’s perspective.
There will be prizes available to schools by category and age group and the winning entries will form part of the toolkit and future media campaigns funded by Safer Streets across Bedfordshire.
The toolkit has been developed in conjunction with the national charity Our Streets Now and includes lesson plans, assembly packs, posters and wider topical and safeguarding information for teachers.
These have been created with guidance from teachers, parents and secondary school pupils.
A series of training sessions has also been developed for school staff throughout February.
February and March will also see three youth conferences put together by the PCC in partnership with the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit, which will include a theatre performance on public sexual harassment delivered to the hundreds of year nine students in attendance.
Helen Fay, Deputy Head Teacher at Cardinal Newman School, said: “We are excited to be working alongside the Police and Crime Commissioner, Safer Streets Project, Bedfordshire Police and local authorities with the rollout of their educational toolkit.
“As educators we are responsible for preparing our young people to deal with and recognise all forms of harassment and the many guises that this can take in the community in which our young people live.
“Schools are communities too and issues within society can be mirrored within the confines of school. It is important that all schools accept this and work hard with young people, teachers and parents to raise awareness and to prepare and educate our students about sexual harassment and sexual violence.
“The toolkit has a multi-faceted approach, which is what is unique. It looks to train staff, inform parents and provide high quality resources to teachers to provide learning opportunities and facilitate discussions.”
The Safer Streets project is supported with around £730,000 of Home Office funding to support efforts to tackle violence against women and girls and make them feel safer across the county.
While initiatives in the programme are committed to ensuring that any victim will receive a sensitive and appropriate response, according to their needs, it reflects that gender-based violence is predominately a pattern of behaviour perpetrated by men against women.
This does not mean that men are never victims of violence, or that women are not sometimes perpetrators. However, local and national prevalence data reveals a clear disproportionality along gender lines.
For more information about the Safer Streets project visit https://www.bedfordshire.pcc.police.uk/safer-streets-violence-against-women-and-girls/