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Cherie Johnson – Family and Behavioural Therapist

In this very insightful presentation Cherie discusses her background, work and why she created Shared Intense Support, which is a 24 hour support service for girls seeking to exit the gang lifestyle, serious violence and sexual exploitation.

Cherie discusses the reality that certain girls and young women choose gang lifestyle. She argues that whilst many are forced into this through coercion, there is another community who voluntarily make this choice. The journey for these young people is different. These are girls who through long standing criminal activities within their families or those they associate with make conscious decisions to participate. Money, status and continuing the family tradition are all part of the attraction. Cherie makes these statement with certainty, as she has walked this path.

Cherie argues that very often these girls are highly motivated, very organised and good communicators.

However, like many, whilst they start out as perpetrators, they quickly progress to become victims of the very community they sought to become part of. Cherie talks about the harsh reality of gang involvement. Recurrent traumatic experiences of violence, rape and repeated prison experiences create a sensation of desensitisation. Cherie describes the often common backgrounds these young women come from, which invariably feature social deprivation, low personal self esteem, lack of educational attainment and frequently family environments that lack positive parental guidance.

As Cherie progresses through this talk, she refers to the possibilities and harms of social media. She talks about the realities that children will seek to hide their activities and who they engage with. She talks about the fact that certain platforms enable Drug related activities to be positively advertised so that young people can engage in these. She mentions that she has seen how they can be used to employ violence against others. However she also discusses the fact that it is essential for parents to understand how these platforms work, the importance of engaging with your children on these platforms, the importance of friends and family to help monitor activities.

Based her own upbringing and the experiences she has of current youth culture, she also refers to the lack of trust with some social services and how these are often not equipped to provide the support needed at the right times. This leads onto how whilst setting up her support service, she realised that this needed to be done in a way that was both credible, and accessible to the young people she worked with when they needed it. She discusses how she has worked with young people to help them escape county lines, sexual and emotional exploitation.

Cherie adopts unusual methods, but says that these are based on sound evidence of what works and over time can deliver effective outcomes.

Cherie concludes by saying that although the people she works do choose this lifestyle at the outset, there is no getting away from the fact that underlying societal factors such as deprivation, education, housing issues and trauma are the catalysts that drive the issue.

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