A MOTHER-of-four whose family was ripped apart by sexual abuse gave an emotionally-charged speech at a conference on grooming.

Marilyn Hawes, the founder of Enough Abuse UK and author of ‘Never Take No for an Answer', was the keynote speaker at a special conference at Bournemouth University looking specifically at how parents and professionals can spot signs of children being groomed.

She told an audience of more than 200 health visitors, counsellors, teac

hers, police officers, students and charity workers how her three sons had been groomed and abused, and said British people had to shed their reservations and tackle the issue head-on.

“We’ve been doing this for 10 years but people don’t want to hear it,” she said. “This is about awareness, not scaring people. Education gives you power and education should remove fear.

“If you want to protect children then it is essential that you understand grooming. Grooming is something you feel in your gut, it’s that quirky feeling that you then justify with logic and reasoning. Your gut is your second brain; you must listen to it.

“The problem is massive; we all know a child being abused. We’ve got to wake up and smell the coffee.”

The charity Acts Fast, which works to support parents of children who have been sexually abused, was also represented at the conference. Co-founder Mandy Gulliver said: “We want to highlight the issue of grooming so that people are aware that this is how it starts.

“It helps the parent to understand the grooming process because essentially they beat themselves up thinking that they missed it.

“It’s not just the children who are groomed, but also the parents who are persuaded to trust the perpetrator.”

Dr Andrew Mayers, senior lecturer in psychology at Bournemouth University, said: “If we could only recognise when a child is being groomed ahead of child abuse then we might actually reduce the likelihood of that abuse taking place.

“My interest in the area is that as a psychologist specialising in mental health, so many people that I come across with severe mental health problems tell me that they have been abused.

“If we can do anything to reduce the likelihood of abuse then maybe we reduce the likelihood that someone is going to develop mental health problems.”