Friday, January 23, 2015

Preventing sexual abuse in the UK: A conversation with Donald Findlater by Jon Brown

As part of the new prevention series I had a conversation with Donald Findlater, Director of Stop it Now UK. (   Stop it Now UK was established in 2002 by the Lucy Faithful Foundation ( as a result of the inspirational work of Fran Henry, Joan Tabachnick, Alisa Klein and others who of course set up Stop it Now in the U.S.  The Lucy Faithful Foundation is the only UK wide charity dedicated solely to reducing the risk of children being sexually abused. Stop it Now UK was advocating for the primary prevention of sexual abuse before it was really on the social or political agenda in the UK. Under Donald’s leadership, Stop It Now UK has played a pivotal role in raising the profile and importance of preventing sexual abuse and violence.

Stop it Now UK provides a helpline for people who are concerned about their sexual thoughts and behaviour as well as for other family members and for professionals wanting to know more about sexual abuse prevention. It also provides a range of prevention and treatment services.

Before taking on the leadership of Stop it Now UK Donald, who originally trained and worked as a Probation Officer and manager and then  Director of the Wolvercote Clinic, , another initiative ahead of its time in many ways. The clinic provided residential treatment for men who had sexually offended and was the only one of its kind in the UK. The clinic was forced to close due to funding difficulties and to this day the UK still does not have a specialist residential treatment centre for sexual offenders outside the Criminal Justice System.  Funding challenges have also been an issue at Stop it NowUK. Not surprisingly, Donald talks with frustration about the way in which support for prevention activity has been reduced at a time when there is finally a greater recognition of the need to intervene earlier and more proactively to stop sexual abuse and violence occurring in the first place. Donald’s persistence and optimism has been really important in ensuring a continued  focus on sexual abuse prevention in the UK.

Other prevention services provided by Stop it Now UK include Inform, a programme for family members of internet offenders with the aim of helping them to understand the offenders’ motivations and how they can best support the family member to help them remain offence free in the future.  Inform is an individually treatment programme for online offenders that aims to ensure the recipient understands their motivation to offend online and what they need to do to remain offence free in the future. An adapted Inform programme has also been developed for young people; this is also delivered individually.  

All Stop it Now interventions address healthy sexual development through offering information and education; they are based on the premise that sexual abuse and violence is a public health problem that can and should be prevented and this belief has been central to Donald’s motivation to develop Stop it Now. Donald is clear that if we are to make progress in reducing levels of sexual abuse we need to have better informed and aware individuals, families and communities. The work of ATSA member, Stephen Smallbone in Australia has been particularly influential for Donald in developing a prevention framework.

When considering the future, Donald speaks eloquently about the need for more outcome data in the UK to measure the effectiveness of prevention interventions.   Under Donald’s leadership, Stop It Now UK is playing its part with the evaluation of the Helpline (for more information go to  In fact, in June 2014 an independent evaluation of the Stop it Now! Helpline, conducted by specialist researchers from NatCen Social Research, was published. The report has been described as 'overwhelmingly positive' with findings showing that the Helpline provides a valuable contribution to tackling child sexual abuse by helping people who have sexual thoughts, feelings and behaviour towards children manage their behaviour, and by assisting all callers to be informed about how to protect children and young people from risk of harm. Study participants who had offended could report feeling more in control of their sexual thoughts and behaviour after using the helpline. Positive change was also reported in areas identified as protecting against re-offending, such as:- improving emotional and psychological well-being; addressing beliefs that can facilitate and maintain sexually abusive behaviour; strengthening motivation to desist; reducing the risk of social isolation; and increasing engagement in fulfilling and productive activities. The findings from the research were synthesised and used to develop a toolkit outlining how similar programmes could be implemented elsewhere in the UK. The toolkit was also tested with other project partners in Germany and Finland. More information can be found it Now continues to grow and now has a presence in a number of other European nations.    

Jon Brown, MSc


Smallbone, S., Marshall, W.L. and Wortley, R. (2008) Preventing child sexual abuse: evidence, policy and practice, Cullompton, Devon: Willan Publishing.

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