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Ipswich women's youth group WASSUP wins Crimebeat Award for work against violence and sexual exploitation

PUBLISHED: 16:03 27 February 2017 | UPDATED: 12:27 01 March 2017

Kasia from WASSUP getting involved in one of the group's poster campaigns. Picture: DARREN SHAUN MANN

Kasia from WASSUP getting involved in one of the group's poster campaigns. Picture: DARREN SHAUN MANN

Darren Shaun Mann

It started as four young and abused women coming together with a dream of making life safer for black, minority and ethnic (BME) groups in Ipswich.

The WASSUP girls raising awareness via an interactive art exhibition last year. Picture: TONIA WILSONThe WASSUP girls raising awareness via an interactive art exhibition last year. Picture: TONIA WILSON

Five years later and that dream has become a reality in the shape of WASSUP, or women against sexual exploitation and violence speak up.

There are now around 20 members, aged between 17 and 27, the majority of whom are non-UK nationals and English is their second language.

WASSUP, run by Volunteering Matters, aims to raise awareness of and tackle five key issues - domestic abuse, honour-based violence, trafficking, radicalisation and child sexual exploitation.

The group does this through social media campaigns, flashmobs, exhibitions, rallies, short films, poetry readings; and it also goes into schools and runs workshops for professionals.

WASSUP member Raven taking part in one of the group's campaigns. Picture: Phillip CharlesWASSUP member Raven taking part in one of the group's campaigns. Picture: Phillip Charles

Next month the group will travel to London to pick up its third accolade, the national Crimebeat Award, which recognises successful crime prevention initiatives carried out by young people.

Tonia Wilson, project manager, said: “It’s very much a campaign group using creative and innovative concepts to get the message across.

“Lots of stuff we do is visual because that stops the language barrier.

“It’s really about safer, clear pathways that young people can understand, taking into consideration cultural differences and diversity.”

When asked why BME groups living in the UK may be vulnerable, WASSUP member Kasia, 19, said: “Because it’s a different language, you are in a different country, different traditions, different people, different judgements, pretty much everything.

“It’s just a different world and you can feel lost, you don’t know how to communicate, how to make friends, how to live and it’s really hard.”

Although the group is run solely by women, Tonia said its work involved and benefitted men and boys.

For White Ribbon Day, a movement created by men to end male violence against women, WASSUP ran a Twitter drive asking for people to send in images of them with their hands held in a stop sign, and more than 100 men from all over the world took part.

“It just goes to show there are so many amazing men out there,” Tonia said.

To help with their teaching, the women have created a persona called Astra whose imagined life is an amalgamation of their own stories and backgrounds.

Kasia said: “She’s representing all of us in one person.

“She’s 13 and lives with her mum, her mum’s partner and her little brother.

“She’s being abused and she’s lost and confused.

“She finds a man, who is around 25. He listens to her and understands her, he’s her way of getting out of those problems but he abuses her as well, mentally and physically. He is grooming her.”

The women use Astra’s tale in workshops with professionals; and between April and July this year they will visit 10 Ipswich high schools to encourage pupils and teachers to think about the barriers Astra faces and how she can be protected.

As well as helping others in the community, the women have also found solace in each other by being a part of WASSUP.

Runa, 27, said: “We work on each other’s strengths.”

Twenty-year-old Raven added: “I found my purpose from this; it’s so nice to come into this group of really open and accepting people.

“It’s amazing, you can come here and be yourself, everyone just accepts you for who you are.”

WASSUP was put forward for the Crimebeat Award by High Sheriff of Suffolk, William Kendall, DL.

He said: “The young people involved in WASSUP are not only to be commended for their voluntary work in their community but it should also be recognised that participation for many of them requires an enormous act of bravery as they stand up against evil people and acts in their own tight knit estates.

“I have rarely seen a project or group of people more deserving of wider recognition than WASSUP.”

On top of the group’s latest prize, it was also shortlisted for a Red Cross humanitarian award and won the Anne Dunford OBE award for youth participation.

This International Women’s Day, which falls on March 8, WASSUP is holding an online campaign and is asking people to send in images of women who have inspired them.

Pictures can be sent to: girlswassup@gmail.com and they will be posted on the group’s Twitter page to highlight the important role women play in society.

In August WASSUP received £20,000 from the Police and Crime Commissioner Safer Suffolk Fund, and £10,000 from the Suffolk County Council Children and Young People’s Service.

Not all of the women in the group have experienced abuse, some are simply passionate about the subject and want to make a difference.

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