A new version of the NSPCC’s successful campaign the Underwear Rule was recently launched to help parents teach children with a learning disability about sexual abuse. The NSPCC and Mencap have joined forces this Child Safety Week to make the popular guide accessible for both parents and children with a learning disability.With more people than ever before contacting the NSPCC helpline (0808 800 5000) about sexual abuse and research indicating that disabled children are three times more vulnerable – both the NSPCC and Mencap are encouraging parents to talk PANTS with their children to help keep them safe.
However, my view is that the booklet is too complex for many children with learning disabilities, The booklet – the PANTS guide – opens with the PANTS acronym and an explanation as to its importance:
How to remember the Underwear Rule There is an easy way to remember the Underwear Rule.
Remember the word PANTS.
The first letter from each of the rules makes up the word PANTS.
P Privates are private
A Always remember your body belongs to you
N No means no
T Talk about secrets that upset you
S Speak up. Someone can help
The concept of an acronym is too complex for many children with a learning disability.
Concepts such as an adult you trust are also too difficult for many children as is the ability to telephone Childline. The concept of the right to say No is also problematic as children cannot say No to many things such as going to school; having a bath and their hair washed; having their ails cut; washing their hands; or wearing a seat belt in the car.
Children with more severe learning difficulties, particularly those on the autistic spectrum, need simple, straightforward and unequivocal rules, such as:
- Someone can only touch you between your legs (or your willie) if its Mummy (or other main carer or Mummy (or other main carer) says it’s OK. (This covers bathing, medical examinations or treatment or similar)
- If someone tries to touch you ors touches you between your legs (or your willie) you must say no and you must tell Mummy (or other main carer) straight away.
- If someone shows you his willie or ask you to touch it, you should say no and you must tell Mummy (or other main carer) straight away.
It’s important to use words that the child understands for their private parts and to name the person of people that they should tell. And to go over the rules many times.
I’m delighted that efforts are being made to protect children with learning disabilities from abuse; but something less complex is needed to give the more vulnerable children, who have least language, least ability to understand and fewest means of making themselves understood. They need simple clear rules – and to be protected by adults.