21st November 2013

Shocking statistics have just been revealed by the organisers of a new empowerment programme designed to help protect young girls from sexual exploitation and self-harming.

After the course, more than 73 per cent of the participants admitted to self-harming and feeling vulnerable, while 35 per cent made disclosures about being victims of child sex abuse.

So far this year, more than 1,000 girls aged between 10 and 16 have participated in ‘Breaking the Silence’ empowerment days which is the first programme of its type in the UK. Central to the course, and key to its success, is a specially designed play called ‘Hidden’ involving a teenage girl being exploited by an older man.

The company behind the venture, ICU Transformational Arts, was founded by actress, author and empowerment expert Tonya Joy Bolton who felt that not enough preventative work was being done to address the problems of sexual exploitation and grooming before young girls actually became victims. Thanks to sponsorship from the young people’s sexual health charity Brook, Tonya has been able to visit schools across the UK from Darlington to Dover.

Tonya praises the forward thinking head teachers and parents who have invited her and her team into their schools, rather than ‘brushing the problem under the carpet’. She said: “Being a writer and an actress, I felt I had to speak out and use my skills to do something about these serious issues which just seem to be getting worse. We all know sexual exploitation is going on everywhere - it’s not just the celebrities in the media spotlight who are involved. We all have a duty to educate our young girls so they can make their own choices. Parents and teachers cannot be present 24/7 so empowering the girls is the way forward, but this must be done in a really engaging way – we all know normal lecturing doesn’t work.

“Incredibly, according to The Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, one in four girls will be sexually abused before they reach 18, and the things we are discovering during the programme supports this statistic. Girls affected by sexual violence and abuse often self-harm and their experiences almost certainly impact on their studies, their attendance and their emotional health. More confidence, improved self-esteem and better social skills can all help young people recognise and respond appropriately to the threat – and the reality – of sexual abuse.”

“Girls can only learn how to protect themselves if we give them the space, the time and the support they need to improve their communication and decision making skills and help them address important issues such as family difficulties and conflict.”

The programme begins with a live performance of “Hidden” – an inspirational and hard hitting one woman play about the challenges faced by a teenage girl  - ‘Chante’ - unaware of the dangers she faces. Chante feels misunderstood by grown-ups, hates school and longs to be a pop star. Just when her dreams seem about to come true, she discovers something that will change her life forever. The play is directed by Jon Trevor and provides an excellent starting point for discussions, debates and exploration.

“The Breaking the Silence programme uses effective ways of removing ‘barriers’ and dealing with sensitive issues. It helps girls make long lasting, positive changes for their future by equipping them with strategies to protect themselves both physically and emotionally. As a result, the girls develop in confidence and are better able to deal with conflict and adverse social situations. I am so pleased to be helping children across the country,” Tonya added.

Breaking the Silence is an ICU Transformational Arts workshop sponsored by Brook, the young people’s sexual health charity. ICU is a not for profit organisation that delivers innovative programmes, and performances which empower young people to break destructive behaviour patterns and unlock their potential.

Tonya has also created a video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VD1eepTQcGAwhich helps to communicate her vital messages about protecting young girls.

For more information or to book an empowerment day or live performance, please email Tonya Joy Bolton at tonya@icu-transformational-arts.com or call her on 07969 472 392/0121 551 6899, or visit http://www.icu-transformational-arts.com.