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Putting Peer-on-Peer abuse in the spotlight

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Published on 01 February 2022

University of Sunderland student films
University of Sunderland student films

Criminal, sexual, physical and emotional exploitation are harrowing subjects that a group of students are tackling for an annual film project.

The short film partnership project, now in its 9th year, in collaboration with Northumbria Police, raises awareness about issues impacting society through films created by final year Screen Performance, Performing Arts and Film Production students at the University of Sunderland.

Over the years the projects have addressed challenging issues such as county lines drug crime, male rape, modern-day slavery, the capacity to consent, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, and cyber-crime.

This year the students have been asked by Northumbria Police, alongside South Tyneside Safeguarding Children and Adults Partnership, to look at Peer-on-Peer abuse, which is becoming more widespread in society and is wide-ranging.

Peer-on-Peer abuse covers areas such as physical and sexual abuse, sexual harassment and violence, emotional harm, on and offline bullying and teenage relationship abuse. It can also include grooming children for sexual and criminal exploitation. It’s hard to say just how widespread a problem it is, but last year, the NSPCC announced an increase in children seeking help from Childline due to Peer-on-Peer sexual abuse.

The students have researched, scripted, devised, filmed and edited all five films themselves which will contribute to the students’ final-year marks. All productions are turned into an awareness film, to be used as an educational or training tool for the police and specialists, and to promote awareness of the issues around Peer-on-Peer abuse.

An awards evening has also been organised on Wednesday, February 16, to announce the winning film. Hosted by Dr Adelle Hulsmeier, Senior Lecturer in Performing Arts and Programme Leader for Screen Performance, with speeches from the University’s Vice Chancellor, Sir David Bell, and the awards presented by Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuiness.

Dr Adelle Hulsmeier said: “It's amazing to think this project has run for nine years! “It's such a testimony to the students’ hard work that we are able to deliver such a high standard of films every year. Our actors and film-makers tackle the work with tenacity, professionalism and absolute commitment and we are always so proud of the work they create.

“It is also a worrying fact that there remain issues of this nature that need to be tackled by the police and their partners every day. To be able to support their endeavours in tackling such horrific crimes, is an absolute honour, and achieves the aim of our University in putting communities at its heart.”

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness, whose office helped fund the project, said: “Every year the students go to great lengths to produce such impactful and thought-provoking pieces of film that raise awareness of very difficult, but very real subjects.-

“This year is certainly no exception – they’ve really shone the light on a difficult subject and I am so grateful to them for doing just that. It’s so important that we recognise abuse like this and make it clear there is help and support available to anyone who is targeted. They’re a great educational tool and there’s some serious talent on show, the students should all be proud of what they have achieved with this project.”

A spokesperson from South Tyneside Safeguarding Children and Adults Partnership, said: “We recognise that safeguarding is everybody’s business and that we all have a responsibility for keeping children, young people and adults safe from abuse and neglect.

“A key safeguarding area of concern that has become evident on a local, regional and national basis is the issue of Peer-on-Peer Abuse, Sexual Aggression and Sexual Violence. Peer-on-Peer abuse includes but is not limited to: physical and sexual abuse, sexual harassment and violence, emotional harm, on and offline bullying and teenage relationship abuse.”

To support schools, Post-16 providers and multi-agency organisations in South Tyneside with their awareness raising work around this subject, South Tyneside Safeguarding Children and Adults Partnership say they are pleased to have had the opportunity to work with the University students and staff to create a suite of films addressing the issues.

The spokesperson said: “The project has facilitated a wider range of productive conversations around the topic, increased the knowledge of students and will help to share the messages around Peer-on-Peer Abuse across our multi-agency partners, children, young people and adult networks.

“It has been an absolute pleasure to work with the University students and staff who have interpreted the brief to produce an excellent resource that will go a long way to ensuring that our children, young people and adults have the knowledge and understanding to recognise that this is a form of abuse that will not be tolerated, and where they can seek the most appropriate help and support.”

Nicholas Glean, Senior Lecturer in Video and New Media, said: “It is still quite awe-inspiring to see how much effort and commitment the students put into these films. The thoughtful discussion that follows each production invigorates me as a lecturer. The students’ sensibility, courage and willingness to engage with such sensitive subject matter always amazes, because they do it with such calm. These films are more than just an assessment; they reflect our society and our communities, showing that we care.”

To attend the presentation, on February 16th, 7pm-10pm, go to Eventbrite to book tickets.