“YOU don’t want to be me, you absolutely do not want to be me.”

“Me” is 62-year-old Marilyn Hawes, a former deputy head teacher and a mother-of-four who has seen her family ripped apart by sexual abuse.

Her three sons were abused, her daughter blamed her for not preventing it, and the effects are still ongoing – 13 years after the offences came to light.

“The day the police left my home after a nine hour interview, my world changed. I’m still on anti-depressants because of the post traumatic stress disorder, I still won’t answer my front door, pick up the phone or even open the post.

“I can’t even drive the car for longer than an hour without a panic attack.

“Sexual abuse breaks up families, it’s just an awful crime, awful.”

After the horror of discovering what had happened to her sons, Marilyn founded ‘Enough Abuse’ – an organisation that works to raise awareness of the grooming process.

Speaking at Bournemouth University, where she was the keynote speaker at a conference focused on the issue of grooming, Marilyn said parents, teachers and professionals needed to know about the careful, meticulous ways sexual abusers win the trust of their victims and their families, often over many years.

“If you want to protect children it’s essential that you understand grooming,” she said. “And yet the subject is still the elephant in the room. We talk about water safety, road safety, don’t play with fire, don’t smoke but we don’t deal with this one.

“There will be 300 people here today, at least 65 of them will have been abused. The problem is massive – we all know a child being abused.

“We spend £3.2billion picking up the mess after child abuse. There are 12 million children in this country and one fifth of them report being sexually abused. That’s 20 per cent of all the pupils in every school across the country. Yet I was a deputy head teacher and I didn’t notice it because I didn’t pick up on the behaviours.”

Her advice to parents is to watch out for “exaggerated behaviours” and to trust their instincts. “Your stomach is your second brain, don’t use logic and loyalty to quell your instinct. Write it down, every odd little quirky feeling you have, and see if you notice a pattern.

“An abuser is often the least likely person you can imagine and grooming can last for years before any abuse takes place.”

Last year, a support group for parents of children who have been sexually abused was launched in Dorset.

Mandy Gulliver, the co-founder of ACTS FAST, said there was a “chronic” lack of support for families and a lack of understanding of how best to support families torn apart by abuse. This was an issue highlighted by the Echo’s “They Deserve Better” campaign, which aimed to ensure victims and their families did not have to wait months for help.

“We are supporting a number of parents who until now have felt traumatised, isolated and upset,” she said.

“We need to shine a light on the darkest corners of our society,” she said. “Sexual abuse and paedophilia thrive in silence, ignorance and fear.”

For details visit actsfast.org.uk.