Adults need to recognise the environment kids grow up in today and how to navigate that environment.
Despite recent headlines about online predators and the risks of the internet, the fact remains that in most cases children who are sexually abused are not the victims of strangers.
Research indicates that 16 per cent or one in six young people will experience sexual abuse during their childhood.
Donald Findlater, Director of Research and Development at the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, heads up the Stop It Now! campaign.
He is an expert on the causes of sexual abuse and how best to prevent it.
Stop It Now! has been running for almost 10 years and runs a helpline that tries to prevent child sexual abuse.
“Abuse mostly likely happens at the hands of someone the child or the child’s parents know well,” Mr Findlater tells Central Lobby.
“It is not typically at the hands of a stranger, though that does happen occasionally.”
For seven years, he was manager of the Wolvercote Clinic, the UK's only residential assessment and treatment centre for men with allegations of or convictions for child sexual abuse.
This followed a career in the Probation Service where, latterly, he was responsible for the development and delivery of Surrey Probation Service's sex offender strategy.
The Stop It Now! helpline, which is partly funded by the government, has three target groups.
“Sex offenders and potential sex offenders, people troubled by their own thoughts about children,” he explains.
“We help them face the reality of those thoughts and the harm that sexual abuse causes and support them in desisting from that behaviour and getting appropriate help.
“The second group is parents and carers of those typically but not exclusively adult males who would be concerned about their behaviour, whether they are children or are now adults.
“The third group are adults around children or adults who are concerned about the sexual behaviour of an adult.
“Our job is to provide information, support and advice on the steps they can take to prevent a child from sexual abuse. One thing we do with every caller, and we have had around 27,000 calls to date, is to agree at least one action for callers to take.
“That may be in certain circumstances reporting to the police, or removing themselves from temptation, it may be parents imposing restrains on children, it may be about discussing sexual matters with other adults so that children’s sexual boundaries are better observed.”
The Stop It Now! campaign also aims to get all adults to be aware of some basic information about child sexual abuse that we all need to know and practical steps we can take to make sure children are kept safe.
“This is an issue that parents need to take seriously and children need to receive appropriate sex education and make sure they have a place they can go to when they or worried or curious, sometimes they have questions they need to ask,” Mr Findlater says.
“There are major public issues that have been raised over recent months - child sexual exploitation with children that are groomed and exploited by groups of men.
“Typically they are children who may be in care or in children’s homes or are estranged from their family.
“That is a significant concern but in a way that type of sexual abuse is part of but no means the whole story.
“It does give a suggestion that the risk is predominantly strangers to the child’s parents.
“Most child sexual abuse is people the child and parent know well.
“We have got to be careful we don’t revert to a situation where we suggest the risk is mostly strangers when we know the biggest risk statistically is people they and their family know.”
The internet’s role in the sexual development of young people is often overlooked by parents, Mr Findlater says.
“Of course we have seen children groomed and exploited - at the moment we cannot say the extent to which that is significant.
“The bigger problem is children learning their sexual mores and boundaries and getting their sex education online. Parents are not confident or comfortable talking to their children about sex education matters.
“Often schools are not doing a great job.
“They might do things about the mechanics of sex or keeping safe from sexually transmitted infections but little is done in terms of how to engage and negotiate relationships, self esteem building and resist the pressure society throws at children.”
Ultimately it is up to parents to be brave and confident enough to broach sexual matters with children who find themselves bombarded with sexual images.
“Adults need to recognise the environment kids grow up in today and how to navigate that environment,” says Mr Findlater.
“We can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Often parents and schools and youth workers don’t feel technically competent to handle the material.”
The best way for parents to keep their children safe is to talk to them.
“What are the risks to your child, but also are they bullying others or sending sexual messages or doing harm to someone else?
“Are parents really in the know? Typically some think it is beyond them.
“All the technology in the world won’t do the job of keeping children safe – it is critical to actually have the conversations with them.”