Parents in Derry have been encouraged to speak to their children about staying safe from sexual abuse after new figures reveal hundreds of offences against young children.
Police in Northern Ireland are dealing with hundreds of sexual offences against young children.
This type of crime robs children of their childhood and the NSPCC is taking preventative steps to help reduce the number of sexual offences.
PSNI figures shared with the NSPCC show that in 2018/19 almost a quarter, 23% or 472 cases, of all recorded sexual offences against u18s involved children aged four to eight.
In total, there were 2,036 recorded sexual offences against under 18s in Northern Ireland during 2018/19, according to figures obtained by the child protection charity.
Also last year, hundreds of children from across the UK aged under 11 contacted the NSPCC’s Childline service about sexual abuse.
A young girl who contacted Childline said: “I want to know if something that happened to me was wrong. The other day my older brother’s friend kissed me and touched me. He asked me to do other things but I said no and he got angry with me.
“I feel awful and like what happened was all my fault. My friends have all told me that it’s fine but I’m so confused. Is this normal?”
In response, the NSPCC is this week relaunching its Talk PANTS campaign, which helps parents with children aged eight and under to have vital conversations about staying safe from sexual abuse.
The charity’s PANTS rules, catchy Pantosaurus song and activity pack help parents find the right words to talk to their children about staying safe. They don’t mention the words sex or abuse so it is easier for parents to tackle the sensitive subject.
PANTS stands for, Privates are private, Always remember your body belongs to you, No means no, Talk about secrets that upset you and Speak up, someone can help.
Margaret Gallagher, Interim Head of Safeguarding in Communities, is based in Derry and she delivers the PANTS campaign to groups across Northern Ireland. She said the figures for N.I. as a whole are reflected in Derry.
Ms Gallagher described as “very concerning” the number of recorded sexual offences against young children. “It is at such a high level and it’s vital we do more to help them stay safe from sexual abuse.
“Often when children are quite young they don’t have the words for this so they are more vulnerable,” she added.
“The prevalence rates in Derry would be very similar and we know a lot of abuse goes unreported.
“They can be groomed by adults but this can extend to children watching inappropriate content online and children need to be told what they should and shouldn’t be watching online.
“That is why Talk PANTS is such an important tool for parents as it enables them to have vital conversations with their child in an age appropriate way.”
A PANTS campaign is run in Derry and the wider Western Trust area in partnership with the Public Health Agency (PHA) which began around two years ago.
The message is shared with groups who work with families such as SureStarts, fostering groups, teachers and is then disseminated throughout communities to ensure that children and their parents have a greater awareness.
“It’s like the Green Cross Code for your own personal safety and we know it works well. There has been lots of positive feedback from parents through our workshops. It’s a very simple message about keeping your privates private and sharing this key message.
“It’s really important to take these preventative steps.”
The NSPCC is encouraging parents to donate to the charity to get the PANTS activity pack and help protect a generation of children from abuse.
The charity has also produced new videos which show children using the PANTS activities.
Donna-Marie Wright, a mum to seven children, is a passionate supporter of the NSPCC’s Talk PANTS campaign.
She said: “I think Talk PANTS is brilliant. Having been abused myself between the ages of seven and 18, I believe it’s essential that all parents talk to their children about staying safe from sexual abuse.
“Many parents may worry that talking to their children about this sensitive subject will be scary and confusing but the PANTS activities help you find the right words.
“There is no mention of sex or abuse and when I’ve used them with my own young children, I’ve found the resources to be incredibly useful.”
Parents and children can sing along with Pantosaurus (www.nspcc.org.uk/pants) who explains each letter of PANTS.
The acronym provides a simple but valuable rule that keeps children safe: that their body belongs to them, they have a right to say no, and that they should tell an adult they trust if they’re worried or upset.
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