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HC-1gAn inaugural conference which aims to offer professionals the tools to help hard to reach groups is set to take place later this month.

The event – which is the first of its kind to be organised by West Mercia Women’s Aid, South Shropshire Domestic Violence Service and The Shropshire Providers Partnership of Refuge – will take place on Thursday 28 November at The Gateway Education and Arts Centre in Shrewsbury.

Entitled ‘Hidden Crime : Silent Voices - Removing the Barriers for Hard to Reach Groups’, it has an impressive line-up of speakers including :

Catherine Costello, The Pink Project Catherine is a qualified social worker and has worked extensively with children, young people and their families, primarily in Youth Justice, Child Protection, Children in Need and fostering.  She delivers training nationally on the impact of sexual exploitation of young women, the criminalisation of sexually exploited young women, preventing violence against women and girls and developing gender responsive practice.  Catherine’s other accolades include Co-Chair of the Youth Justice Board Practitioner Forum; Co-Chair of Nottingham’s GANG services network; Senior Lecturer in Social Work and Sociology at Leicester’s De Montfort University and Associate Lecturer for the Open University.  She has also worked with the Ministry of Justice to support young women affected by gang related sexual violence and exploitation.

Chaz Akoshile, Joint Head of The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) at The Foreign and Commonwealth Office The FMU is the government’s delivery arm for handling forced marriage casework and outreach; it works closely with partners across government, statutory agencies and voluntary organisations in order to develop effective policy for tackling forced marriage and honour related violence in the UK.  It runs a public helpline providing confidential advice and support for victims and practitioners charged with responsibility for safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.

Detective Sergeant Sophie Wade, Operation Chalice Sophie joined West Mercia Police in 1998 and since 2002 has worked within the area of Family Liaison.  In 2008 she joined CID and worked within child protection and hate crime.   As a Specially Trained Officer, Sophie works with victims of serious sexual offences within a Sexual Offences Investigation Team and it was her expertise in this area that led her to become involved in the identification and investigation of human trafficking and child sexual exploitation within Telford, Shropshire.  Operation Chalice was born, West Mercia Police’s first ever investigation into these areas, with Sophie as the lead officer.  The Operation concluded successfully in December 2012.

Sue Matthews, The Pink Project Sue – who has 27 years experience of working with young people in the Youth Justice system – is a specialist consultant and trainer in delivering gender responsive programmes in the areas of child sexual exploitation, teenage relationship abuse and girls and gangs.  She is a guest lecturer at Derby, Nottingham and Nottingham Trent Universities as well as The Open University.  She works part time at Nottingham City Youth Offending Team and is both a Co-Chair of The Youth Justice Board Practitioner Forum and The Nottingham GANG Network.

Other speakers include Wendy Wilde from Broken Rainbow - the UK’s only national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender helpline organisation - and Bill Longmore, Police and Crime Commissioner from West Mercia Police.  Tom Currie, The Chair of Shropshire’s Domestic Abuse Forum will open the conference.

The event will provide Shropshire practitioners and staff from organisations who may already be working with or wish to work with hard to reach groups, the opportunity to gain a better understanding of forced marriage, girls and gangs, child sexual exploitation and the gypsy traveller community, the issues they face, what support is needed and gain access to useful resources and information.

Jan Frances, Chief Executive of West Mercia Women’s Aid said: “This event is a new initiative but one which all partners involved will hope to see repeated. We are delighted that it is a sell-out event, and we believe that delegates will gain an understanding about the issues that hard-to-reach groups face when trying to access domestic abuse services.  This in turn will help us to remove any barriers when providing support and thereby ensure that all those in need of help have access to it.”

The event is taking place during The 16 Days of Action, an international campaign that focuses on endingwhiteribbon-sshire violence against women.  It commences on Monday 25 November – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – and runs until Tuesday 10 December, International Human Rights Day.  West Mercia Women’s Aid supports the campaign locally.

A dedicated 16 Days campaign area pledge page for Shropshire will also be launched at the event.  This can be accessed at