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Going upstream: an appetite and vision for child sexual abuse prevention - celebrating the career of Donald Findlater

29 April 2024

After decades working in child protection, Donald Findlater, the director of our Stop It Now helpline, has retired. He spoke to Deborah Denis, our CEO, to look back at the highlights, the milestones and the disappointments.

“The organisation has been a massive part of my life,” said Donald. “It has given me a voice that I would not otherwise have ever had.”

“Maybe the best thing I have ever done is choose people to work with; they have done a great job.”

Listen to the interview here.

The beginning

Following a career in the probation service, latterly in Surrey with responsibility for sex offender policy and practice, Donald joined the Lucy Faithfull Foundation in 1995 to manage the Wolvercote Clinic. Wolvercote – the successor to the pioneering work of Ray Wyre and colleagues at the Gracewell Clinic in the late 1980s – was the country’s only residential assessment and treatment centre for men with allegations of or convictions for child sexual abuse. 305 men went through its doors over its seven years of operation, with an evaluation by Birmingham University concluding it was the most effective treatment programme for high risk, high deviance men with sexual convictions available in the UK at that time.

Following its closure, Donald led many projects to tackle child sexual abuse. “It’s about looking at the next opportunities, the next need,” he said. “As the world turns, as opportunity and risk shifts, then we have to be responsive to that.”

Pioneering a public health approach to prevention

In 2002, with funding from the Home Office, he set up two prevention initiatives: Stop It Now UK and Ireland (a child sexual abuse prevention campaign, supported by a confidential helpline) and Circles of Support and Accountability (a project utilising volunteers to support convicted sex offenders to live safely in the community).

More recently, he’s been responsible for developing our website for parents and carers, Parents Protect, and ECSA (Eradicating Child Sexual Abuse) – a toolkit for communities across the globe that assists in the development of evidence-informed child sexual abuse prevention strategies. He had the opportunity to apply this toolkit (and the “Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Framework” of Stephen Smallbone and colleagues) in Latvia, Bulgaria and Brazil, and to present the ECSA toolkit at conferences across Europe for colleagues to take and apply. Over four years he worked with Stephen Smallbone, Richard Wortley and Griffith University, Queensland, colleagues to develop and deliver a comprehensive response to prevent youth-perpetrated child sexual abuse in two communities of primarily indigenous peoples in Australia.

Following the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by school caretaker, Ian Huntley, and the resultant Bichard Inquiry, Donald assisted DCSF (now DfE) in designing “Safer Recruitment in Education” training for senior school staff. He delivered this for 13 years, including as a founding member of the Safer Recruitment Consortium until handing the baton to colleagues in LFF. He was a board member of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) and of its successor, the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) for four years.

With a background in the Church (many denominations), Donald has taken a close interest in churches’ responses to sexual offending, offenders, victims and survivors across his career. Due to the significant number of clergy from different denominations, including Catholic priests, who had attended Wolvercote Clinic, he was invited to be a member of Lord Nolan’s review of “paedophile priests and child protection in the Catholic Church in England and Wales” that reported in 2001 and resulted in the establishment of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (COPCA). For many years he sat on the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Panel and has sat on the Guildford Diocesan Safeguarding Panel since the early 1990s.

From 2015, in response to the growing problem of sexual offending online, Donald was responsible for initiating our online child sexual abuse deterrence campaign that has developed and grown, year by year, ever since. This has included the ground-breaking, if somewhat controversial, collaboration with Aylo, the company behind Pornhub, serving warning messages to users seeking sexual images of under-18s. This work also saw the recent collaboration with IWF over the development and deployment of a chatbot to engage these same users in a dialogue that attempted to get them to stop their harmful or illegal behaviour and get help to change from Stop It Now.

Human stories

When asked what message he would leave his colleagues, he said to know that we are working in a complex and demanding area with multiple challenges, but “with a prize – our mission – a world free from child sexual abuse. We are doing something about that in every aspect of our work; we’re learning all the time.”

“We have to be humble about how much the world still doesn’t know, but also to have confidence about the things that we do know and the work that we are doing and the people that we are working with.”

“It is about those human stories – all of us carrying people with us who’ve been in those dark places,” he said. “If we’re touching those stories and learning from them and sharing those insights with our colleagues then I think that’s a grounding that is just so vital… the only place I can build from is the work that I’ve been privileged to do.”

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