Apprentice lands national award for helping victims of child exploitation
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A young apprentice who helps victims of child exploitation by sharing her own survival story has won a national award for her incredible work.
Emily Patterson voluntarily talks about how she was abused as a teenage girl as she wants others to know that, “no matter your life experiences, you can still achieve inspirational things”.
The 21-year-old joined Nottinghamshire Police’s Youth Outreach team in March 2022 and helps support young people who are either vulnerable, socially excluded or involved in crime.
Since her arrival, referrals to the Youth Outreach programme have drastically increased – such is the impact Emily has when engaging with young people affected by abuse.
On Wednesday (6 September), Emily was recognised at the first VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) recognition event, hosted by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing at London’s Heron Tower.
Emily was presented with the award for Helping People and Young People Affected by VAWG, with her proud parents and Assistant Chief Constable Gary Hooks there to applaud her.
A judging panel selected Emily for the award after learning about her difficult childhood and subsequent achievements in the face of adversity.
“I became a victim of child sexual exploitation at the age of 14,” she explained. “As a result, I was assaulted regularly and was made to feel vulnerable.
“I was trapped and that was the start of period of time when my life was a complete mess. I went missing regularly and was groomed by older males who drove me around in flashy cars and showed me things that weren’t part of normal life.
“I experienced the dark side of gang culture and saw people get beaten up over drug debts – things no teenager should see.
“As a result of all this, I ended up in care and have been in all tiers of the care system, even in a secure unit.”
The grooming and exploitation happened in London and Emily’s life only began to turn around when the care system placed her in Nottinghamshire, where she received support from Nottinghamshire Police’s Youth Outreach programme.
Launched in 2019, the Youth Outreach team is led by Romel Davis and supports young people who are either vulnerable, socially excluded or at risk of falling into crime.
“I had a lot of one-to-one support from the Youth Outreach programme,” Emily said. “Romel came to see me and I can’t speak highly enough of him. One of the things he did was ask me what I was interested in and he got me into a girls boxing group in St Ann’s. He took me to that and I really enjoyed it, as it helped me get my anger out in a safe environment.
“After a while, I told him about how I’d always wanted to join the police. My uncle’s a serving officer and my grandad worked in CID – plus I’d always been inspired by watching programmes such as The Bill and more recently Police Interceptors.
“I told Romel I didn’t know where to begin and he told me the Youth Outreach team had an apprenticeship opportunity. I applied, went for an interview and was so happy when they offered it to me.”
To say Emily grasped the opportunity with both hands is an understatement. Since starting the apprenticeship, she has delivered a string of Child Sexual Exploitation presentations to students, highlighting its impact, how to spot the signs and how to find support.
She also delivered a presentation to the force’s Child Abuse and Sexual Exploitation Investigation Units about her experiences as a survivor and how victims should be treated by the police.
With help from the Youth Outreach team, Emily has also designed and planned a series of 12-week programmes with cohorts of carefully selected young people.
In May this year, she was officially appointed as a Youth Outreach worker – even though she is still undertaking her apprenticeship.
“It’s been such an amazing job for me,” Emily said. “I want to be the person who I needed when I was going through challenging times. Joining Nottinghamshire Police has enabled me to do that so it’s been amazing.
“To win an award on top of that is incredible. When I was called in by the Superintendent, I thought ‘oh no, what have I done?’ But she called me in, shook my hand and said congratulations, you’ve won this award. I couldn’t believe it!”
Romel Davis, who has worked as a Youth Outreach worker since 2019, described Emily as a “massive inspiration”.
He said: “From the first time I met Emily, I knew she was very special. Not only has she been able to overcome adversity and trauma, she has a huge passion for helping young people who have been through similar situations to herself.
“I knew she would be a huge asset to us once she was old enough to apply for a role at Nottinghamshire Police and she has not disappointed.
“She has improved the service we offer to young people in Youth Outreach programme and she is an amazing role model for young girls and women.
“Emily is hugely deserving of this award and we’re so proud of her.”
Assistant Chief Constable Gary Hooks added:
“Emily is a very genuine, relatable and honest person and her interactions with vulnerable young members of our communities, as well as the parents, carers and professionals around them, have been incredibly impactful.
“By sharing her life experience, she gives others hope. The feedback from Emily’s sessions has been extremely positive and has led to female referrals to the Young Outreach programme tripling since she joined Nottinghamshire Police.
“She is a credit to herself and the organisation and could not be more deserving of this award.”