Insidious and secretive, sexual abuse is the stuff of nightmares for any parent. Terrifyingly, abusers don’t come with labels and, more often than not, they’re known to the children they target. With the best will in the world, the usual “stranger danger” talk simply doesn’t cut it.
Yes, it’s an unbearable thought, but if it’s also unspeakable how can we hope to protect our children? Worse, if we continue to shy away from talking about this issue are we in danger of reinforcing it as something shameful that its victims dare not share?
We kid ourselves thinking that our much-loved children, given every advantage we can muster, are safe from harm. Or do we? As a parent I can now hold my hands up and say I could have done more to educate my children about how to protect themselves.
I – like so many parents – felt so deeply uncomfortable about broaching the subject that I preferred the three wise monkeys approach: hear no evil, see no evil and, above all, speak no evil.
However much we might like to consign sexual abuse to the past, the dreadful reality is that it’s happening here and it’s happening now.
The fact that a third of all children who are abused never speak to anyone about it, even when they are adults, tells us all we need to know about its impact then, now and into their future.
We do get that it’s a difficult topic to broach – it didn’t fill me with glee when the campaign was first mooted. But that in itself gives us an insight into the deeply ingrained attitudes to sexual abuse – attitudes which allow abusers to say that it’s their “secret”, and make victims feel complicit in their guilt.
Looking back, I wish I’d had the support we’re now able to offer and access to these simple steps to empowering your child. And they are simple steps – simple and not even slightly scary.
The beauty of the Underwear Rule is that it makes such sense to children as well as to adults. It’s an age-appropriate way of making sure children speak up if something happens – the words abuse or sex don’t even need to be used.
Start a conversation which could help stop abuse in its tracks. We promise you, it’s not as difficult as you might think.
Visit www.nspcc.org.uk/underwearrule to find out more information.
• Matt Forde is national head of service for NSPCC Scotland