Wales

St David Awards: Fighting back after sexual exploitation

Lowri Hawkins Image copyright Welsh Government
Image caption Lowri now advises agencies how to deal with victims of child sexual exploitation

From the age of 12, Lowri Hawkins was the victim of child sexual exploitation.

Now aged 19, she has waived her right to anonymity to help agencies such as the police deal better with the issue, and is among 26 nominees for this year's St David Awards.

Here she shares her story.

It started when I was 12 years old and in a really dark place, taking drugs and drinking alcohol.

I met this man outside a shop. He agreed to buy me alcohol if I gave him my phone number and it started from there. He was 28 years old.

He carried on buying me drugs and alcohol, and it carried on when I moved foster home from Newport to west Wales.

We slept together and soon after I found out that I was pregnant.

I was 13 years old, still addicted to cocaine and drinking a lot of alcohol. I was severely underweight, about five stone, and I decided keeping the baby wasn't the best thing for me, so I had an abortion.

It was a very traumatic time for me, I had suicidal thoughts and self-harmed but I didn't know any different.

Image copyright Welsh Government
Image caption This year's St David Awards nominees for categories including bravery, innovation, culture and young people

I thought that was what a normal relationship was. I didn't know it was wrong to be with a man 16 years older. He cared for me and I didn't have that love at home, so I thought I had found it in him.

He got it into my head that if anyone found out about us that I would be in trouble as well. It wouldn't just be him going to prison but me as well.

It was only when I was sat with my foster dad watching a documentary about child sex exploitation that I realised what was happening to me was wrong because I had been through all the same stuff as this girl on the TV.

I didn't think there would be any help out there for me but I was shocked to find there was.

If it wasn't for the trust I had in one female police officer then I don't know if I would have had the confidence to say what was happening. The police really helped me while my foster family were brilliant and got me all the way through the trial.

Future

I'm now studying health care at college and would like to be either a social worker or police officer. I'd like to be able to help other children in the same position as I was because I have been through the system.

I do a lot of work for Gwent Police, talking about my experience so that officers know how to deal with children like me. If it helps just one person, then it's worth it.

I also have a two-year old daughter, who is everything to me, and a great foster family around me. I'm in a good place. I don't recognise the person I was aged 12. That person is in the past, she doesn't enter my mind.

As well as Lowri, 25 other people have been shortlisted for the 2019 St David Awards.

The annual event at the Senedd in Cardiff takes place on 21 March and recognises the achievements of people in Wales from all walks of life.

Among the eight categories being considered are bravery, citizenship, innovation, sport and young people.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: "All of our St David Awards finalists are exceptional - every person and organisation is a credit to our nation.

"These awards are a celebration, acknowledging some amazing and remarkable people. Each of the finalists have made a significant difference - overcoming adversity and achieving something truly inspirational."

Image copyright Welsh Government
Image caption Mother and son, Ceri and Aaron Saunders, were praised by the RNLI for saving a young boy from the sea

Bravery

  • Andrew Niinemae - Risked his life trying to stop a car from driving into a crowd of people outside a pub in Whitchurch, Cardiff.
  • Ceri and Aaron Saunders - The mother and son rescued a 10-year-old boy from being swept out to sea near Broughton Bay, Gower.
  • Darran Kilay - Road sweeper was praised in court after he helped police catch a knifeman in the centre of Swansea.

Citizenship

  • Cardiff Street Pastors - Trained volunteers from 25 churches patrol Cardiff city centre on Friday and Saturday nights to help those in need.
  • Emma Picton-Jones - Set up the DPJ Foundation after her husband Daniel took his own life due to offer mental health support for people in the rural community, especially men in the agricultural sector.
  • Glenys Evans - One of the founding parents of Bobath Children's Therapy Centre Wales, providing specialist therapy to children diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
  • Janet Rogers MBE - Volunteer at the Ponthafren Association to provide a range of mental health support services in north Powys.

Culture

  • Elfed Roberts - Chief executive of the National Eisteddfod for 25 years until he retired in August.
  • Fiona Stewart - Owner of the annual Green Man Festival, the largest contemporary arts and science festival in Wales, attracting 25,000 people a day to mid Wales.
  • Hijinx Theatre Company - A pan-Wales theatre company which casts neuro-divergent and learning disabled actors in its award-winning theatre productions.
  • Theatr Clwyd - Wales' largest producing theatre which has created a number of new community companies, engaging with a variety of age groups.
Image copyright Welsh Government
Image caption Hijinx uses theatre to address intergrating learning disability into the workplace and society

Enterprise

  • Hilltop Honey - Selling organic Fairtrade honey, it has seen turnover increase to more than £4m since being established in 2011, while donating 25% of its profits to a children's charity.
  • Jem Skelding - Chief executive of Neath-based Naissance, selling natural and organic health and beauty products. Jem ensures growers receive the best price for their products.
  • Steve Downey - Former soldier has turned Hannaman Material Handling in Deeside into a modern, effective and profitable business.

International

  • Dr Laith al-Rubaiy - Gastroenterologist who graduated from the Basra School of Medicine in Iraq, he now lives in Cardiff and volunteers with the AMAR Foundation to provide medical treatments to some of Iraq's poorest citizens.
  • Liam Rahman - From Carmarthenshire, he became director of E-Qual Education and employs more than 100 people in Wales as well as mentoring students to learn more about international opportunities.
  • Rhinal Patel - Set up the Pursuit of Happiness charity which gives workshops on human rights in partnership with international organisations like Amnesty International, looking after the environment and mindfulness.
Image copyright Welsh Government
Image caption Hannah encourages other teenagers who have suffered bullying to speak up

Innovation, Science and Technology

  • Cerebra Innovation Centre - Swansea-based charity dedicated to helping families with children with brain conditions discover a better life together.
  • Go Safe Cymru - Partnership between Wales' police forces, local authorities and Welsh Government with the aim of making roads safer by influencing attitudes and behaviours of all road users.
  • Ian Bond - A retired businessman from Aberdare, he set up Bond Digital Health Ltd to create a smart diary and app platform to help patients with chronic conditions to monitor their health.

Sport

  • Geraint Thomas OBE - first Welshman and only the third British cyclist to win the Tour de France.
  • Jess Fishlock MBE - The Welsh footballer to be capped 100 times and four-time winner of Welsh Footballer of the Year title.
  • Menna Fitzpatrick MBE - At just 19 years old, she became the most successful British winter sport Paralympian in history with four medals - including gold - at the 2018 games.
Image copyright Welsh Government
Image caption Bethan grew up caring for her mother who suffered with epilepsy

Young Person

  • Bethan Owen - A young carer for her mother, she now runs a not-for-profit karate club near Rhyl for other young carers between the ages of six and nine to develop confidence, self-esteem and have a break from their caring responsibilities.
  • Hannah Adams - The 17-year-old from Cardiff uses her own experiences of bullying and self-harm as anti-bullying ambassador for the Diana Awards, encouraging others to speak up and not suffer.
  • Lowri Hawkins.

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