A very warm welcome back to Aravinda Kosaraju. Aravinda was one of the first employees at Pace in 2005, as Research and Policy Officer. She is now joining us as a trustee, bringing her wealth of knowledge and experience.
We caught up with Aravinda about her PhD, research and coming back to Pace.
Tell us a little about your experience and career
It all began 20 years ago, I was a student Social Worker in Mumbai working at a police station. Under their jurisdiction, the police station had one of the biggest red-light districts in Asia; it was whilst working here that I met many young people and women who had been trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. After a police rescue operation, I would support the child or young person in their recovery and return back to their families, as their case worker and interpreter. It was here that my passion was ignited.
After moving to the UK, and being involved with research into child trafficking, I found the job advertisement for Pace, which was then called CROP, to be their second employee as a Policy and Research Officer. My role at Pace was to ensure that parent and family support was central in responses to safeguard children from sexual exploitation. My task was to raise awareness about the impact of child sexual exploitation on parents, carers and extended families.
“The research that I did, campaigning and advocacy both at national and local authority level was to ensure CSE is recognised for what it is and to make sure family support in tackling CSE was firmly on the agenda for both policy and practice.”
After working at Pace, I then moved on to do my PhD. Whilst working at Pace, it was shocking to see how many cases did not progress onto court, never mind to a trial. This is something that really troubled me and so, I chose to look at attrition in cases involving crimes of child sexual exploitation in England. We know it is traumatic for children to go to court, but no-one was asking why; how we thought about prosecutions was determining our approach, effectively shutting the door on these children. I am now at the University of Kent’s Centre for Child Protection and teach on a master’s degree course in Advanced Child Protection, a distance learning MA suitable for multi-agency professionals working fulltime.
What was your experience of working with Pace when you first started in 2005?
Working for Pace was a huge learning curve; whilst I was working in Mumbai, I found that exploited children were those from poor socio-economic backgrounds. This was the most vulnerable and at-risk group. Whereas, when I started at Pace, I learnt that sexual exploitation doesn’t discriminate. It reaches all races, all classes and all communities. I found that the main difference was the action of the parents; at Pace, parents were desperate to protect their children – their commitment, love, passion and energy, they wanted to be part of the change.
“When I joined Pace in 2005, parent blaming was systemic and this is what we needed to change.”
As Policy and Research Officer, my job was to increase the profile of the charity. Together with the brilliant trustee group we had, and colleagues offering parent support we began to reframe the issue from abduction to trafficking. This meant that our work was beginning to appear on the agendas of national organisations.
What inspired you to return to Pace?
“Honestly it feels like I have never left”
Pace has always been in my heart. The parents’ experiences that they shared with me have never left me. When I think of my research, I think back to those parents who had shared their lived experiences with me so I could try to understand the problem.
I am a researcher by nature but an educator now. I’m in a position to inform and develop practice. I can stretch in both ways; I can bring my research to Pace and the trustees and be in a position to advocate for the parents and fight with them against child exploitation.
What differences can you see in Pace now that you are joining as a trustee?
Apart from the obvious name change from CROP to Pace, the charity has grown in size, with an increased ability to serve more parents. Back in 2012, it was a case of working to see how many parents you could help in your day. But now, we have Parent Liaison Officers in areas outside of Yorkshire that work in multi-agency teams, we have a training arm of the charity to educate and teach professionals how important parents are in fighting child exploitation but in this growth, the ethos of the charity hasn’t changed – parents are still driving the change.