A YOUTH project is working to steer Barton girls away from sexual exploitation following the Oxford grooming gang convictions last year.

The 10-week course, from youth project Thrive Barton, aims to give six teenage girls more confidence and increase their self-esteem.

The course is being run after seven men were last year jailed for a total of 95 years for grooming and abusing vulnerable girls in the city.

The girl victims were chosen by the groomers because their unsettled or troubled lives made them easy targets.

Thrive Barton youth worker Katie Pryde said: “Many of the girls I meet in Barton don’t have a clue just how much potential they have and are left quite vulnerable by their circumstances.

“If we can increase a girl’s self-esteem, she’s less likely to be vulnerable to abuse and she’s more likely to grow in confidence, to dream a bit bigger and to end up doing things with her life that she didn’t think were possible.

“Recently I asked a group of girls how they know if a boy loves them.

“They all said that you can tell if a boy loves you if he buys you nice things.

“It’s really dangerous to believe that and I do worry that some of these girls will be taken advantage of.”

The group started work earlier this month and is for girls aged between the ages of 14 and 20.

It is run by two members of the Thrive team and a 16-year-old volunteer who took part last year but did not want to be named.

Thrive Barton, an initiative of Oxford-based charity Innovista, was started up on the estate in 2010.

This is the third time the course has been run.

Innovista spokesman Robin Peakes said the content of the course has been adapted to address the Operation Bullfinch case.

He said: “Young people particularly at risk of sexual exploitation include girls with low self-esteem, living in poverty or deprivation.

“With one in three young people in Barton living in child poverty, Thrive hopes this group can help those who are vulnerable.”

The group sees young women discuss body image, feelings and their hopes for the future.

The £2,850 project has been funded with £1,978 from Oxford City Council’s Youth Ambition Fund with the rest of the money coming from individual supporters.

Mike Rowley, Oxford City Council member for Barton and Sandhills, welcomed the scheme.

He said: “Thrive’s self-esteem group is already achieving great things, which is important especially as we have seen how vulnerable some young people with low self-esteem can be if they are not getting the support they need.”

For more information about the course, people are asked to call Innovista on 01865 788350.