Let’s Talk PANTS

By Sharon Hodgson MP, former Shadow Children's Minister

As the Shadow Children’s Minister, I am all too aware of the horrific situations many children in the UK are suffering when at the hands of an abuser.

With approximately 50,500 children in the UK alone known to be at risk of abuse, as well as a third of girls in relationships aged 13-17 reported to have experienced sexual violence in that relationship, it is as though abuse is becoming a normality in everyday life. These shocking statistics do not just affect the victim’s childhood, but can also impact on their adult lives too, casting a long shadow over their mental, physical and emotional health.

This is why it is important to promote early year’s education initiatives, such as the NSPCC PANTS campaign, which guides parents and carers on how to teach their children to stay safe from abuse.

PANTS is a simple and clever acronym devised to teach children the underwear rule: privates are private; always remember your body belongs to you; no means no; talk about secrets that upset you and speak up, someone can help. The campaign literature is targeted specifically towards children aged 3-11, but can be adjusted to make explaining the underwear rule appropriate to any age group.

Whilst awareness campaigns, like PANTS, are important, what we also need are lessons in the classroom that help to prevent abuse. Rules such as keeping your hands to yourself as well as respecting yourself and others, are all key to a child’s development and understanding the difference between right and wrong.

This is why I am a strong advocate of Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE) and Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) being rolled out as a statutory subject in all schools nationwide. These subjects cover a range of topics but specifically focus on relationships of different kinds, people’s rights and responsibilities as members of families and other groups, and as citizens. It is vital that children are taught about healthy relationships so that they know what to do if they are ever in a position where they are being manipulated or abused.

Talking to a child about abuse will always be a sensitive issue; you do not want to scare them at such a young age or make them feel as though they are unable to hug a relative without fearing the worst. However, with statistics so high, it is important that every child is aware firstly, of the ever increasing risks of abuse and secondly, what constitutes abuse.

We all want to protect and safeguard our children. That is why it is important to introduce the topic of abuse similarly to how you would tell a child about road safety; simple everyday conversations can make your child more aware, keep them safe and reduce the risks of abuse in later life.

Speaking out on abuse should be normal, not the act of abusing.