MAKE no mistake, sexual abuse is a major problem for children in Scotland.
It’s not just something that happens in a particular community, or is perpetrated by an identifiable “type” – research shows that a staggering one in 20 children is a victim.
Sexual abuse is pernicious – by its very nature hidden, isolating, and with an impact that can last a lifetime.
The dreadful reality exposed by the Jimmy Savile case is that children find it incredibly hard to speak out; indeed a third of all children who are abused never speak to anyone about it, even when they are adults.
Children need to be heard and to be taken seriously, but behind all that, they need to know what is right and wrong in the first place.
It seems so blindingly obvious, yet we are paralysed by fear at the prospect of broaching such a difficult subject.
My first reaction when we, in the NSPCC, first began planning the Underwear Rule campaign - where children learn that the parts of their body covered by underwear are private - was to feel a little uncomfortable. Even talking about the need to talk about sexual abuse was tricky.
I thought back, guiltily, to how I had handled the issue with my own two children – knowing I had not handled it at all. I had dodged it, save for warnings about not talking to strangers.
Looking back, I wish I’d had access to some simple guidance, which could walk me through the conversation and allay my fears about its impact.
People want to talk about these issues with their children, but they find it really hard to do. Am I saying something that is too full on? Am I exposing my child to things they shouldn’t have to think about?
The beauty of the Underwear Rule is that it makes such sense to children as well as to adults.
It is an age appropriate way of making sure children speak up if something happens – the words abuse or sex don’t even come into the conversation.
Put your reservations and discomfort to one side and have a look at our materials. It is a quick conversation – easier than you think – and it could make a big difference to those you love the most.
• Matt Forde is National Head of Service for NSPCC Scotland