Let’s Talk About PANTS

The PANTS rule was created by the NSPCC as a way to talk to your child about being in control of their bodies and keeping their private bits private. It’s a way of preventing abuse without having to talk about abuse specifically.

P stands for Privates are Private. This is about teaching children that their pants cover up their private bits. Those are the bits that aren’t for other people to see, unless it’s a parent or medical professional and then they should explain why and ask the child for permission first.

A stands for Always Remember Your Body Belongs To You. A vitally important message and one that really needs to be taught from a young age. Children should not be made to do something with their bodies that makes them feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.

N stands for No means No. Even if it’s a trusted family member asking for a hug, a child has the right to say no and it’s our job to teach them that. And if they say no, their choice should be respected, not treated like a bad thing.

T stands for Talk About Secrets That Upset You. Children should feel that if someone tells them a secret they feel uncomfortable with, they can tell another grown up they trust. Two of our key values as a family are honesty and being open with each other. If it’s something like a birthday surprise, then we say it’s a ‘Good secret’, to make clear that it’s not something bad that’s being hidden.

S stands for Speak Up, Someone Can Help. This is about making sure a child knows they have a range of people to speak to if someone does something to make them feel scared or uncomfortable. Again, this is about making sure there’s open discussion and that any problem or worry can be talked about and wherever possible, we’re here to help.

The NSPCC have also created a fun character – Pantosaurus – complete with his song about PANTS. This makes the whole message that bit more child friendly and hopefully memorable too!

I cannot overstate how importantly I view this conversation. It’ll take a bit of time and maybe there’ll be some awkward questions but you’re keeping your child safe. I know it’s not something we want to think about but child abuse does happen. I think many people have some stereotype in mind of the kind of family abuse occurs in but this is simply false.

If you read my last ‘Let’s Talk About…’ post, you’ll know that I’m a survivor of child abuse myself. I can tell you that from my personal experience, if I had been told the PANTS rule, I might have told someone right when the abuse began, before the serious damage had been done. Instead I just felt scared and confused, convinced to hide what was happening. I, and many other people like me, could have been saved from a horrific childhood, as well as a lifetime of consequences to deal with.

Please have this conversation with your child today.

Thanks for reading.

Talking about childhood abuse

Trigger warning: This post won’t go into the details of abuse but will discuss telling family members and friends about the abuse. If this is going to affect you poorly, please don’t read on any further. I have included details of a couple of helplines at the end if they’re helpful to you.

If you suffered any kind of abuse as a child, talking about it is very important and I would encourage it very strongly. Telling my best friend was one of the best choices I ever made, even though it was also one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But as soon as the words were out and he gave me a big hug, I felt a million times better. Also, in recent times, I’ve had much more positive reactions and attitudes from friends I’ve talked to about this.

But what nobody seems to prepare you for is how people might react negatively when you tell them that you were abused as a child. I’ve experienced three different reactions and I’d like to share this to help prepare anyone who is preparing themselves to talk to someone.

First reaction was when I told my best friend (incidentally, now husband). He knew something was wrong and asked. I could barely get the words out. As I said already, he gave me a big hug and  basically offered all of the support I needed. He’s listened to me talk about it as much as a I want and he came with me to the Police station when I decided I wanted to make a statement and press charges. At the same time, I don’t think he’s ever treated me differently because of it. He doesn’t tiptoe around difficult subjects or not be straight with me about everything.

Second reaction was when I told members of my family. If I’m honest, I expected them to be extremely angry with my abuser, my older brother. I expected it to be treated like what it is: a huge issue. Something that had wrecked my life for years and made me feel incredibly depressed. Instead, they wanted it forgotten and never spoken of again. They seemed far more concerned about what other people would think if this ever became public knowledge, that it would be some kind of scandal. I have no idea if they even believed me. Neither of my parents ever asked me how I felt about it or if I was OK. They seemed shocked and confused when I left home, giving the reason that I couldn’t live under the same roof as my brother anymore. Even now, this makes me feel so angry and some of my PTSD symptoms are actually more about this than about the abuse.

Third reaction was when I told other friends. They believed me and showed sympathy. Many offered to go and physically assault my abuser, which I obviously said no to – nobody should be getting arrested over this except him. But they started treating me differently. They’d avoid talking about sex or anything related to it. They’d avoid talking about their own families, especially any older brothers. Eventually, one of my closest female friends admitted that she just didn’t know how to be around me anymore. While I appreciated her honesty, I was so hurt that admitting that this horrible thing that had been done to me, that I couldn’t have stopped from happening, was the reason we couldn’t be friends anymore.

Although I didn’t experience it myself, I do know that others who have spoken out about the abuse they’d suffered were not believed by some. I can only imagine how terrible it would feel to summon up the huge amount of courage needed to finally tell someone that something so horrific had happened to you, only to be called a liar.

Ideally, you would be able to expect support and to be believed and treated like a normal human being (for that is what you are!) but, as abuse victims are all too aware, the world is far from ideal. People do not behave well or as you would hope all of the time. Although I didn’t, I would now recommend to others that you have the number for a support helpline at the ready so that, if the person you choose to talk to doesn’t have a positive, supportive reaction, you have someone to talk to who can help. Perhaps you should call one of these helplines, and I’ll list a few I know of at the bottom of this post, beforehand to help prepare you.

I’d like to finish on this note. Despite everything, I’m so glad I decided to speak out. Keeping that secret, I really do believe, might have ended my life if I’d kept it for much longer. It eats away at you. So, if you have suffered abuse, please tell someone, whether it’s a good friend that you really trust or a professional or a volunteer on the phone. It’ll be a first step towards life getting better and life won’t get better until you do it. Just be prepared for what the reaction could be.

Thank you for reading.

NAPAC (National Association for People Abused in Childhood) have two free helplines:

If you’re calling from a UK landline or a mobile provided by Virgin, Orange or 3, call 0800 085 3330

If you’re calling from a mobile provided by O2, Vodafone or T-mobile, call 0808 801 0331

Rape Crisis (England & Wales): 0808 802 9999