From an early age we talk to children about how to stay safe. We teach them how to cross the road safely and not to run with scissors. But some subjects can be trickier to discuss than others. For example – sexual abuse. Where on earth do you start?
Talking about sexual abuse with children can feel like a daunting prospect. It’s something you hope you never have to discuss and you might feel that if you do; you’ll scare them or take away their innocence.
But the truth is abuse happens and we need to talk about it to keep children safe. During the year 2019/20, police forces across the UK recorded more than 73,500 child sex offences – an increase of 57% over five years. By talking about it from an early age, potentially before it even takes place, we can help children speak up if something happens that worries them.
But talking about abuse doesn’t need to be a scary thing and we can show you how. You can start by teaching them the NSPCC’s Underwear Rule, or PANTS. Since the NSPCC launched its PANTS campaign in 2013, it has sparked over 1.5 million conversations between adults and their children to help keep them safe from abuse.
PANTS stands for:
Privates are private
Your underwear covers up your private parts and no one should ask to see or touch them. Sometimes a doctor, nurse or family members might have to. But they should always explain why and ask you if it’s OK first.
Always remember your body belongs to you
Your body belongs to you. No one should ever make you do things that make you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. If someone asks to see or tries to touch you underneath your underwear say ‘NO’ – and tell someone you trust and like to speak to.
No means no
No means no, and you always have the right to say ‘no’ – even to a family member or someone you love. You’re in control of your body and the most important thing is how YOU feel. If you want to say ‘No’, it’s your choice.
Talk about secrets that upset you
There are good and bad secrets. Good secrets can be things like surprise parties or presents for other people. Bad secrets make you feel sad, worried or frightened. You should tell an adult you trust about a bad secret straight away.
Speak up, someone can help
Talk about stuff that makes you worried or upset. If you ever feel sad, anxious or frightened you should talk to an adult you trust. This doesn’t have to be a family member. It can also be a teacher or a friend’s parent – or even Childline.
Next, you’ll need to pick the right time to start talking about it. The right time is… anytime! It’s important to make it part of everyday conversations you might have with your child so that it doesn’t feel forced or as though it’s a big deal. Some examples are:
• During bath time, when applying cream or when getting your child dressed.
• During car journeys – it’s a neutral space and it might be easier to get their undivided attention.
• Going swimming is the perfect time to explain that what’s covered by swimwear is private.
• During a TV show that features a sensitive storyline – you could ask them what they would do in that situation and encourage them to think about adults they trust and could speak to about a problem.
There’s even a video for you to sing along to with your child, to help them learn the Underwear Rule. The yellow, cuddly, pant-wearing dinosaur mascot, Pantosaurus, sings and dances his way through these important safeguarding messages but it’s fun and incredibly catchy.
Singing not really your thing? Don’t worry – you can always read the PANTS book together. Pantosaurus and the Power of Pants follows the story of Pantosaurus as he receives a new pair of pants. Dinodad tells him that they will give him special powers. Pantosaurus then experiences a problem at school and just as Dinodad told him, his super pants give him the power to speak up.
There are lots of other sources of support available on the NSPCC website – www.nspcc.org.uk/pants. You can sign up for regular emails with tips and advice, download free PANTS guides in 16 different languages and sing along to the Pantosaurs video.
There are also PANTS activity packs, and Pantosaurus and the Power of Pants is available to buy in the NSPCC online shop – shop.nspcc.org.uk
For further advice and support, the NSPCC’s Helpline is available Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends. Trained professionals can offer tips and advice and can help you if you have concerns about a child. You can call them free and in confidence on 0808 800 5000 or visit www.nspcc.org.uk/helpline