THE importance of self-esteem among young girls is being promoted by a city charity in the wake of Oxford’s child sex gang scandal.

Last month, seven men were convicted at the Old Bailey during the Operation Bullfinch trial of sexual offences linked to trafficking and exploitation of six girls.

Child protection chiefs warn low self-esteem can lead to girls being easily groomed with love and attention which then turns into abuse.

The charity Innovista is helping girls learn to have greater self-confidence through its Value, Identity, Purpose (VIP) course. The project, the second of its kind in the city, uses older female volunteers to mentor and help girls build confidence and self-esteem.

Among those on the course is Cherwell School pupil Sophie Harrison, 15, from Barton, who said: “I didn’t have a lot of confidence and I found it hard to get to know people and trust people. I have loved being part of the course.

“I have learned that beauty is different for each person.

“It’s really helped me with my confidence.

“I’ve started talking to people at school but before I never would have had the confidence to go up to them.”

Iesha Bryan, 15, from Headington, said: “I’ve learned how to value my-self and how important I am as an individual and that I am special and unique. I got to hang out with people who are older than I would normally hang out with.

“I think when you get older you don’t care as much about what everyone else thinks of you.”

Cheney School sixth form student Katrina O’Connor, 19, also from Barton, said: “I just didn’t have confidence in myself before. It’s helped me to meet a lot of people and get involved in a lot of groups.”

Innovista development manager Robin Peake said: “There is a big focus on this issue now.

“It shows how important it is for girls to have self-esteem and for that to be robust enough to give them a high sense of worth and make them value themselves and those around them.

“We were already running the project when a lot of it (Bullfinch) was coming out, so it wasn’t driven by it, but it’s certainly brought the issue into the spotlight.”

The course was part-funded by Oxford City Council.

Body Shop worker Jocelyn Feasey said: “It was really nice to give the girls makeovers and help improve their confidence.

“The outcome was really positive. We did pamper sessions with them or makeovers, hand massages and manicures, and they left really happy.

“I hope it really helped them – it seemed to, and it was a nice thing for us too.”