A woman who dedicates her working life to helping teenage girls recover from the horrors of sexual abuse has been honoured by a top police boss.
Hannah Mart, 40, runs support groups in Colwyn Bay and Wrexham for young female victims of sexual assault, giving them help and advice as they try to get over their ordeals.
Her work saw her win the Victims’ Champion prize at the Community Awards event organised by North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones at the Kinmel Manor Hotel in Abergele.
Hannah’s monthly meetings, known as Girls’ Groups, have been running since 2015 and give the teenagers – all aged between 15 and 19 and from all parts of North Wales – a chance to take part in positive activities.
Hannah, who is employed by Betsi Cadwaladr and works from the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in Colwyn Bay, said: “The idea was to create an area where people with experience of sexual violence could meet.
“If you’re a young woman who has experienced sexual violence as a teenager, it can be a really isolating experience. It can make you feel different from your peers.
“So we wanted to create a space where they felt normal and included.
“A lot of the people we work with have significant mental health issues too so we also wanted to create a space where it was OK to feel anxious, it was OK to have a panic attack, it was OK if you had self-harm scars. You wouldn’t be the only person. It’s about the communality of experience.”
The Girls’ Group meetings focus around a particular task each time – usually craft work – but the main idea is to get the victims together in one place where they feel safe and able to get over their experiences.
“None of us are very good at the craft work really,” said Hannah: “It’s the unseen stuff that’s going on which matters most.”
The girls will sometimes go on walks together or listen to talks by guest speakers, such as psychologists or inspiring people who have overcome mental health issues or been victims of sexual assaults themselves and recovered from the experience.
Over the summer, the Girls’ Groups also teamed up with the STAR project which promotes the development of Safety, Trust and Respect in relationships, attending boxercise classes and talks about family planning and relationships for victims of sexual abuse.
On winning the award, Hannah said: “I’m really, really pleased. It’s really nice to have the recognition, lovely.”
The former Childline employee thanked her ‘amazing’ and ‘supportive’ manager, Sarah Staveley, and the young people who attend the Girls Groups.
She said: “It takes real courage to come into a room of people you’ve never met – it’s scary.
“They’re amazing with each other. Anybody can set up a group, but if you haven’ got young people who are prepared to give a bit themselves, it wouldn’t have worked.”
“I’ve spent my whole working life working with children and young people in a safeguarding arena, and this is head and shoulders the most rewarding job I have ever done.
“It is difficult and demanding, and stressful and upsetting at times, but it is rewarding. You couldn’t do it if it wasn’t.”
Hannah was nominated for her award by Dave Evans, manager of the North Wales Police and Community Trust (PACT), who said: “I was delighted to hear that Hannah had won the Victims’ Champion award. Through my work with the High Sheriff’s Crimebeat Youth Fund, I have known Hannah for many years, from her time with Childline to her current work with the SARC and the STAR project.
“This award is testament to the dedication and commitment that Hannah displays in her work to support young people who are victims of crime and sexual abuse, and is work that is vitally important given the growing trends our young people continue to encounter.”
Commissioner Jones, a former police inspector, felt it was important to recognise the efforts of often unsung heroes in the community.
He said: “One thing all our winners have in common is that they make North Wales a better and safer place to live and work.
“There are many selfless people who do a lot of good in the community by helping North Wales Police and these silent workers go way beyond anybody else to make a contribution and ensure their communities are safe.
“In the overwhelming number of cases, this a personal commitment made without expectation of any kind of reward or recognition.
“This awards ceremony is an opportunity to recognise the unstinting efforts these unsung heroes and heroines and to encourage others to follow their good example.”