Meet the Abuser

In this article, Marilyn Hawes of Freedom From Abuse examines how perpetrators of child abuse can pass by almost unnoticed.

Beware of the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing...

20 years ago, my career took a radical turn. Why? I learnt that my best friend of 17 years and my boss of 10 years, who was headteacher at our semi-rural C of E primary school, was in fact a child abuser.

How does anyone deal with that? I was the deputy headteacher. It happened on my watch and three of his targets were my own sons.

I had never even considered the possibility. I was alert, observant, intelligent, questioning and cautious.

But how had he done it? How had he managed to fool so many people over such a long period of time? I set out to discover the answer.

The Compliance Bar is Set Too Low

One reason is that inspectors seem to set a very low bar for safeguarding. Schools where problems occur, even where teachers and children had their concerns, consistently receive inspection status of “excellent”. There is something seriously amiss where concerns exist, but remain unsaid.

Perpetrators Are Smarter Than We Imagine

Over the years, I have visited perpetrators behind bars - eloquent, intelligent, well-educated men and women. Never forget that women also abuse.

Wherever there are children, there is always the risk of employing someone with ill intent. Abusers deliberately choose a profession or workplace which places them amongst children.

Many with whom I have spoken, chose their careers at 16 – in professions that meant working with children.

These people are arrogant, brazen and groom in plain sight. However, they are also charismatic, charming and understanding around children. Of course, because they make children their business.

They will single out their targets, but first, groom the adults who care for the child. We’re not talking about abduction, but clever, well-honed acts of duplicity.

So, Why is Great Training the Key?

Because if you and your staff cannot identify a groomer, you cannot prevent your students and parents from harm.

Yet, all too often schools tell us “we’ve done safeguarding“, or that “the council are doing it”. At Freedom From Abuse, our training goes beyond compliance. Taking an active approach to understanding, and spotting, grooming behaviours is essential.

Sadly, you don’t know what you don’t know until it is too late. The school’s name is all over the media and the internet, and the respected reputation you have worked on so diligently is tarnished – forever.

We offer in-person, online or video training for staff, parents and children, that is unique, memorable and experiential. It also works. Last term, as a result of my training sessions in schools, numerous children and teachers disclosed abuse or concerns.

This issue will always be with us. Never believe it can’t or won’t happen in your school. That’s naïve and dangerous. Every week, we are directly involved in an abuse case in schools that thought they had safeguarding sorted.

Beware of Name Changes

For safer recruiting, be aware of how easy it is to change a name by deed poll – even from inside a prison. Ian Huntley, for instance, the abuser and murderer in the Soham school case, was in fact, Ian Dixon.

After Huntley's trial at the Old Bailey finished, it emerged that a catalogue of allegations of rape, indecent assault and sex with underage girls in and around his hometown of Grimsby, was not uncovered when Cambridgeshire police performed a check on his suitability to work as a caretaker at Soham Village college. Humberside police failed to keep records of all the alleged offences, which were not passed on to Cambridgeshire.

Another child abuser and murderer Colin Pitchfork who, three years before his last release, changed his name to David Thorpe. After his release by the parole board, it wasn’t long before he was back behind bars, up to his old tricks once again.

So, check and check again all details such as NI number and original birth certificates. In October 2019, a charity discovered that approximately 1,300 paedophiles and sex abusers had changed their names in the past three years.

Marilyn Hawes

Marilyn is the Founder of the charity Freedom From Abuse which provides support and resources to educate users on how to identify an abuser, report abuse and protect children in their care. A survivor of abuse herself, she was named Inspirational Woman of the Year in 2017.