Why you shouldn’t talk to your children about sexual abuse

The NSPCC certainly seems to be ahead of all other charities in grabbing headline news. Barely a day goes by without one of its press releases being turned, uncritically, into a shocking news story. It’s easy to see why. The NSPCC’s preoccupation with all adults potentially being paedophiles plays on our worst nightmares, and has definite purchase with the public at a time when we feel isolated and mistrustful of others.

The latest news release from the NSPCC trumpets the fact that the number of sex crimes committed against children under the age of 11 rose sharply in 2013. What the nature of these sex crimes and who the perpetrators were is not clear, but the message the NSPCC wants to promote is that parents should talk to their children about abuse and how to stay safe. Its ongoing ‘Underwear Rule’ campaign instructs parents on how to do this. Parents should tell young children that: 1) their body belongs to them; 2) they have a right to say no; and 3) they should always tell an adult if they are upset or worried.

This campaign is not only disproportionate, but also rather disturbing. Thankfully, very few children will experience sexual abuse. Most children live in loving, caring homes and are able to enjoy the innocence of childhood. We, as the adults who love and look after these children, have a responsibility to shoulder the anxieties of adulthood, and shield them from the hysterical concerns of the adult world. That child sexual abuse is something that now haunts our minds in powerful and invidious ways is something for us to deal with, not infect our children with.

I agree that children should tell an adult if they are upset or worried. But the Underwear Rule campaign will likely lead children to see all adults as potential abusers – people who are threatening and not to be trusted. If anything, this campaign could help to create a climate in which children are less likely to tell an adult if something does happen to them; and the alarmist NSPCC PR machine would only have itself to blame.

Jane Sandeman is convenor of the Institute of Ideas Parents’ Forum.

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