The NSPCC's Underwear Rule: Not talking about child sex abuse only protects the adults

It might seem like child sex abuse is always being talked about, but when it comes to the discussion that might really help prevent abuse, parents still need help


There are things that no child should ever have to think about.

And then there are things that most adults would rather not think about. The Underwear Rule, a new campaign launched by the NSPCC yesterday, recognises that when it comes to protecting children, it is the latter, as much as the former, that really dictates how we behave.

Do parents and other carers really need reminding of this ever-looming spectre? It’s not as if this is a taboo topic in British public life. Most days, the news seems filled with little else: Jeremy Forrest, Mark Bridger, the Rochdale case, the Oxford case, parts of Operation Yewtree, the rise in live-streamed images of abuse… it’s overwhelming, and it only makes protecting children feel all the more urgent. To even hint at the existence of such horror in the presence of children would seem to defeat that object.

Child sex abuse has become the topic we are always talking about, but never actually talking about. We talk about the institutional failings of the BBC, or the “problem within Islam”, or the lurid details of high-profile cases – anything to avoid confronting what the NSPCC points out: that about one in five children fall victim to abuse; that the perpetrator is usually someone the child knows and trusts; that it happens to children of every gender, age, skin colour, class and religion.

Half of parents surveyed by the NSPCC said they had never spoken to their children about the issue. Of those who had, 43 per cent said it had been a difficult conversation. But this isn’t only about individual relationships between parents and children . On the same day the NSPCC launched their campaign, the Jillings report into abuse allegations at children’s homes in North Wales was finally published. Let the 17-year delay stand testament to how attempts to deny child abuse out of existence – instinctive and human though they may be – can easily mutate into devastating institutional failure.

The regularity with which adults in power minimise, dismiss or outright ignore abuse allegations suggests it isn’t only the innocence of children we seek to protect. Consciously or unconsciously, most adults are equally intent on ensuring their own rosy remembrance of childhood remains unmolested. Not only is this, patently, an ineffective method of prevention, but by ignoring children’s accounts of their experience, we also perpetuate a key feature of the abuse; the denial of the victim’s autonomy over their own body.

The Underwear Rule replaces all the panic and despair with a positive message for children that’s easy for adults to communicate: your body belongs to you and no one can touch it without your permission. But the real brilliance of the NSPCC’s campaign isn’t how age-appropriate it is for under-11s ; it’s how age-appropriate it is for grown-ups.

Twitter: @MsEllenEJones

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London