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Campaign launched to teach children the Underwear Rule

Parents encouraged to talk PANTS to help protect their children from sexual abuse

8 July 2013

The NSPCC is today launching the Underwear Rule campaign to help parents protect their children from sexual abuse.

It comes as a new online YouGov poll shows half the parents of 5-17-year-olds who took part in the survey have never spoken to their sons or daughters about the issue.

And of those who have more than two in five (43%) said it was a difficult conversation.

9 out of ten children know their abuser

Just over one in ten (11%) UK adults surveyed said primary school children faced the biggest risk of sexual abuse from someone they don’t know with half (51%) listing ‘stranger danger’ an area of concern for children of this age.

However, previous NSPCC research has shown that in at least 90% of cases the offender was known to the child.(1)

Huge rise in calls to NSPCC helpline

Awareness of sexual abuse has risen dramatically since the vast catalogue of assaults committed by Jimmy Savile were revealed last year, with the NSPCC’s helpline experiencing a huge rise in calls.(2)

But while parents want to help their children stay safe from sexual abuse many don’t always have the confidence to explain how.

The importance of this is underlined by one of the YouGov findings which shows more than 83% of those taking part said they thought parents of 5-11-year-olds were responsible for talking to them about the risk.

The Underwear Rule: National advertising campaign

The six week advertising campaign, which will be aired on nearly 60 local radio stations throughout the UK is being supported by Netmums and will help these parents teach the Underwear Rule’ to their children during simple conversations.

The campaign complements the organisation’s ChildLine Schools Service which is visiting every primary school in the UK advising children on how to stay safe from all forms of abuse.

There will be supportive guidance for parents explaining the Underwear Rule. The NSPCC has developed an easy-to-remember guide – Talk PANTS – that helps children understand the key points of the rule.

Privates are private
Always remember your body belongs to you
No means no
Talk about secrets that upset you
Speak up, someone can help

Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC, said:
“The shocking case of Savile has horrified many parents and understandably it has heightened concerns around sexual abuse. But most abuse is closer to home and if we are to tackle this issue we must prevent it before it even starts.

“To do this we must educate our children about staying safe and speaking out. Parents have told us they lack confidence in approaching this difficult but important issue.

“We’ve worked with parent groups to devise a simple, age appropriate way of making sure children speak up if something happens. It’s a quick conversation but could make a big difference.

“It’s really easier than you may think and you don’t have to mention abuse or sex at all. Just ask them to remember the Underwear Rule.

“Of course telling kids about crossing the road, stranger danger and bullying are really important but this should be discussed as well.

“Most parents still think that stranger danger is a threat facing children from the adult world but most abuse is committed by someone known to the child with stranger abuse being very rare.

“This means traditional messages like ‘don’t take sweets from strangers’ are important but don’t work for much of the abuse that is occurring.”

Siobhan Freegard of Netmums, which is supporting the campaign said:

"It's every parents' worst nightmare to find their child has been touched inappropriately - and no family wants to think it will ever happen to them.

“But as the statistics show it does happen to one in 20 kids, and nine times out of ten by someone known to the child. So by talking about it, you are taking the first steps to keeping your children safe.

“No one can deny it's a tough conversation to have. As a mum I can talk openly to my children about stranger-danger. I can talk easily about bullying and how to always tell an adult. But talking about them being touched intimately feels much more difficult.

“As parents we need to find a way to make our kids aware of the danger without scaring them, and that's exactly why the NSPCC is promoting the Underwear Rule. It's clear, simple and easy for even young kids to understand.

“Think of it as a green cross code against sexual abuse. That is why I am encouraging parents to learn the underwear rule and talk PANTS with their children.”

Find out more about The Underwear Rule


(1) Source: Based on NSPCC research with 11-17 year olds - Radford et al (2011) Child abuse and neglect in the UK today.

(2) In the months after the Savile revelations calls to the helpline tripled.

Notes for editors:

  1. Background information and the campaign video can be found at: www.nspcc.org.uk/conversations. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,043 adults, of which 1,204 were parents. Fieldwork was undertaken between 21st - 23rd June 2013. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
  2. Adults concerned about a child can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.
  3. Children can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 or on the ChildLine website.

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