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Expert praises Scars

Empowering and inspiring: Marilyn Hawes, founder and CEO of the British-based Freedom From Abuse stands with Debi Ray-Rivers, founder and executive director of Scars (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

A British child protection campaigner said last week she envied the progress made by a Bermudian child sex abuse prevention charity.Marilyn Hawes added that Saving Children and Revealing Secrets had “nailed it”.She was speaking after she met Scars founder Debi Ray-Rivers.Ms Hawes said: “I’m really privileged and proud to know Debi because what she’s achieving is awesome.“She has brought a whole community together to wake up and smell the coffee, and that’s unique.“I really admire her that it’s known all over the island.“It takes five years really to change to a culture, and she’s changed it, and everybody’s buying into it. I wish I could do the same in England.”She added: “It’s empowering and it’s inspiring; it’s great to be part of it.”Ms Hawes started her own sex abuse prevention work more than 15 years ago and launched Freedom From Abuse, a community interest company, last year.Scars has provided Stewards of Children training to 9,768 people in its mission to “reduce the risk of child sexual abuse”.Teachers in Bermuda have to be certified in prevention and Scars has recommended that adults in all youth organisations complete the training.Ms Hawes learnt of the charity’s work through relatives in Bermuda and first met Ms Ray-Rivers in May.She said the pair were “singing off the same hymn sheet”.Ms Hawes explained: “We will never stop child abuse. Sadly, it’s part of the human condition and the brokenness in society, but we can’t half-prevent a lot of it if we opened our eyes.”She added: “We have got to put child sexual abuse into our daily language.“It is cultureless, it is classless and it is as common as cornflakes.” Ms Hawes added: “No one is born to be an abuser, something happened in childhood that distorted their thinking that was not picked up in the early years.”The campaigner, who has appeared on Sky News and other British TV stations, said that sexual offences online have become more closely linked with those offline in recent years.She said: “I say to the youngsters, the internet was not invented for children, it was an adult communication thing, across timelines, for companies, businesses, governments to work, and that’s why it’s not safe, because it wasn’t created for youngsters.“In England, we’re finding seven-year-olds getting infiltrated and naked pictures of men pleasuring themselves coming into their screens.“This is not just a problem in the UK, this is everywhere.“The children have got to take responsibility, the parents have got to take responsibility — they buy the devices. They have to step up to the line.”She added that live-streaming had become a popular platform for abusers and that adults should prevent children from using smartphones or similar gadgets in their bedrooms.Ms Hawes and Ms Ray-Rivers discussed ways to share educational materials and expertise, as well as the possibility of working together at an event next year.Ms Ray-Rivers said: “We want to add some of her training opportunities on our website — the more resources the better.”She added: “She’s like a breath of fresh air, we both share the same passion about protecting children.“We want children to grow up healthy and whole, with their innocence protected.”