Sexual Abuse is the one topic that parents feel very unequipped to talk about with their children. Yet with incidences of child sexual abuse appearing to happen more frequently with every year, it isn’t something we can ignore.
In fact, there’s no reason to shy away from talking to your children about their body and the boundaries that come along with that. These conversations are a part of their journey, and can certainly be translated into age appropriate terms.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in the United Kingdom believes that The Underwear Rule is the way to go.
The Underwear Rule
You may feel incapable of teaching your child about sexual abuse. Then it’s time for you to teach them the Underpants Rule .
The NSPCC is leading children’s charity that’s working to end child abuse. Their focus is on the UK and Channel islands, but their ideas can help parents and carers all over the world. As well as helping abused children to rebuild their lives, NSPCC has come up with some ways that parents and carers can do more to prevent abuse and keep their children safe. They call it PANTS.
What Is PANTS?
PANTS is a simple acronym, a mnemonic that makes it easy for parents to engage children in a discussion about sexual abuse. We aren’t going to sugarcoat it for you, this can be a difficult discussion, one that parents feel awkward about having with their kids. But the simple truth is their understanding and awareness makes them less at risk.
So let’s talk about PANTS.
Privates are private
You should be very clear with your child that the parts of their body covered by underwear or a swimming attire are private. They should understand that nobody can ask to see or touch their private parts, or ask them to look at or touch anybody else.
While sometimes doctors, nurses or family members may need to view and touch private parts, children should know that these people should always explain why they need to do this, and ask if it is ok beforehand.
Always remember your body belongs to you
Your child should understand their body is their property and nobody has the right to do or say something that makes them feel uncomfortable. Their body is theirs to make decisions about, and they should know it’s ok to say know and tell a trusted adult when something isn’t right.
NO means NO
It’s good to teach children that they have the right to say “no” to unwanted touching, even if that touching comes from a family member or someone that they know and love. This ability to say “no” shows that they’re in control of their body (which is theirs) and that their feelings are respected.
When kids are confident enough to say no, even to things like tickling, in the home sphere, they will be more confident in public as well.
Talk about secrets that upset you
This might be a bit harder to translate to younger children, but you can start by talking about good secrets and bad secrets. Often abusers use phrases like: “it’s our little secret” to make children feel worried or even scared to tell someone what is happening.
Secrets that worry your child, or make them feel sad or frightened are bad secrets, while secrets like surprise parties or presents for others are good secrets. Understanding the difference between the two is crucial, and kids should understand that telling a secret will never hurt or worry a trusted adult.
Speak up, someone can help
Encouraging your child to talk to you or another trusted grown up when they feel sad, anxious or frightened is something that all parents should do. Your children should feel comfortable coming to you, but if they don’t it’s important to remind them that there are other options as well, including a trusted relative, a teacher, or even the parent of a friend.
Knowing Something Is Wrong
Parents are not mind-readers, and many do not realise their child is being targeted, groomed or already suffering at the hands of an abuser. However, there are some behavioural changes to look out for, which can help you quickly recognise if anything is happening and either start a dialogue with your child, or go to the police. If you aren’t aware of them, this website provides a good list of things to look out for in protecting your child’s safety.
Better awareness and education, on both the sides of the parents and the child, are all key in stopping the rise of child sexual assaults. Being better informed could save the children close to you from a traumatic experience.