YOUNGSTERS have praised a play on child sexual exploitation which has started a tour of county secondary schools.
Year 9 pupils at Didcot’s St Birinus School said Chelsea’s Choice had made them think about the dangers posed by grooming.
It is the first time such a production has toured all county secondaries and comes as nine men face a jury over an alleged Oxford sex gang.
The play – by four members of Northampton’s AlterEgo Theatre Company – shows children questioning their teacher about sexual exploitation.
They act out the true story of how 15-year-old “Chelsea” starts chatting to men online after her boyfriend refuses to sleep with her.
She meets Gary – in his mid to late 20s – in an internet cafe and they begin a sexual relationship that exploits her anger at her friends and parents.
The 30-minute production ends with him taking complete control of her life, plying her with drugs and alcohol and passing her around men for sex.
Richard Nutter – who plays Gary – said boys were just at as much risk, adding: “You are right in the middle of the most vulnerable age group.”
Jo Clinton, 14, said after Monday’s launch: “It was really good and it showed me a lot I need to learn in life and how I need to protect myself.”
Dan Blair, 14, said: “It was quite a big shock to us to realise how much it happened and how often.
“We will be a lot more careful on the internet, we will realise what we are signing up to.”
The play – followed by a question and answer session – has been commissioned by Oxfordshire County Council, which said it tackles the issue “without being too graphic”.
Nine men are on trial at the Old Bailey over an alleged sex gang, which six girls claim abused them between 2004 and 2012 when they were 11 to 15.
Director of children’s services Jim Leivers said: “We have been planning for some time to stage this play in schools, knowing the on-going media coverage of the trial would bring these issues to the fore in Oxfordshire.”
Area social care manager Penny Browne said: “The county council is taking a whole range of steps to make sure that young children are in the best possible position to protect themselves.”
Mrs Browne said: “Young people are spending enormous amounts of time online and there are less safeguards. Already there has been an increased number of reports and we are encouraging professionals, parents and children to contact us even if it is just to talk through concerns.”
Deputy headteacher James Fuller praised the “energetic and powerful” play. He said: “They were very quiet and very much thinking about the message that was being given out.”
Thames Valley Police and Oxfordshire County Council has a special confidential helpline for anyone concerned about a child who may be at risk of child sexual exploitation. Specially trained advisers are available to take calls from anyone with concerns. The helpline number is 01865 266255.