How to get girls to say no starts with persuading them to reassess the way they look.
Teenage girls are under huge pressure to look and act older and sexier than their years.
“We see kids in schools with hair extensions, fake tans and false nails – and they are 13. They all look like Cheryl Cole – and at least 19,” says Mandy who works closely with social services, the city’s Sexual Exploitation Service, police and other agencies.
“They feel it is expected of them. They see images of glamorous, sexy women on TV and in magazines and feel inferior and even ugly in comparison. As soon as a few girls start going to school like that, the others feel pressured to copy. It’s all about trying to fit in.”
Girls who look highly sexualised seem to endorse the young male view that sex is theirs for the taking. Girls and boys see characters on TV having multiple relationships; they start to believe sex is something to be expected and not cherished.
“Social networking makes it easier for young people to meet strangers, and craving for attention, young people can fall into carefully laid traps without knowing they fell at all.”
Raising girls’ self-esteem is the way forward, say the Golddigger Trust. “We start by getting them to see that the way they look naturally is absolutely fine. That putting on the basic school uniform in a morning and not having to stress about putting on make-up and doing their hair is much less hassle,” explains Mandy. Through two-month courses in schools, using creative discussion sessions, mentoring and role-play, Beth and Mandy gain girls’ confidences then set about empowering them to get out of bad sexual relationships.
They have launched a drop-in centre in Sheffield city centre. “It’s a safe place aimed specifically at supporting girls who are being, or are at risk of being exploited. Girls can come to talk over their issues one-to-one.
“We encourage them to re-evaluate relationships and the motivation of the boys they meet. We help them to work out whether someone has a hidden agenda or not and encourage them to admit to themselves that they are not ready for sex and feel confident enough to tell boys so.
“If they want a relationship, we show them that what they deserve is an equal and loving one with someone who is good enough for them. And even then, they still do not have to have sex if they don’t want to.” Getting groups of girls together and persuading them to talk openly about themselves is also a highly successful way of changing their perceptions.