The Underwear Rule

The Underwear Rule was developed to help parents and carers start a discussion with their children. It can be a highly effective tool to prevent against sexual abuse.

The Underwear Rule has 5 important aspects.

1. Your body is your own

Children should be taught that their body belongs to them and no one can touch it without their permission. Open and direct communication at an early age about sexuality and “private body parts”, using the correct names for genitals and other parts of the body, will help children understand what is not allowed. Children have the right to refuse a kiss or a touch, even from a person they love. Children should be taught to say “No”, immediately and firmly, to inappropriate physical contact, to get away from unsafe situations and to tell a trusted adult. It is important to stress that they should persist until someone takes the matter seriously.

In the book, the hand always asks Kiko for permission before touching. Kiko grants permission. When the hand wants to touch inside the underwear, Kiko says “No!”. Parents or carers could use this sequence to explain to children that they can say “No” at any moment.

2. Good touch – Bad touch

Children do not always recognise appropriate and inappropriate touching. Tell children it is not okay if someone looks at or touches their private parts or asks them to look at or touch someone else’s private parts. The Underwear Rule helps them to recognise an obvious, easy-to-remember border: the underwear. It also helps adults to start a discussion with children. If children are not sure if a person’s behaviour is acceptable, make sure they know to ask a trusted adult for help.

In the book, Kiko refuses to be touched inside the underwear. Parents can explain that some adults (such as carers, parents or doctors) may have to touch children, but children should be encouraged to say “No” if a situation makes them feel uncomfortable.

3. Good secrets – Bad secrets

Secrecy is a main tactic of sexual abusers. That’s why it’s important to teach the difference between good and bad secrets and to create a climate of confidence. Every secret that makes them anxious, uncomfortable, fearful or sad is not good and should not be kept; it should be told to a trustworthy adult (parent, teacher, police officer, doctor).

In the book, the hand encourages Kiko to speak out if somebody wants to touch Kiko in any inappropriate manner. This sequence can be used to discuss the difference between a good secret (such as a surprise party) and a bad secret (something that makes the child feel sad and anxious). Parents should encourage children to share bad secrets with them.

4. Prevention and protection are the responsibility of an adult

When children are abused they feel shame, guilt and fear. Adults should avoid creating taboos around sexuality, and make sure children know whom to turn to if they are worried, anxious or sad. Children may feel that something is wrong. Adults should be attentive and receptive to their feelings and behaviour. There may be many reasons why a child refuses contact with another adult or with another child. This should be respected. Children should always feel that they can talk to their parents about this issue.

The hand in the book is Kiko’s friend. Adults are there to help children in their daily lives. Preventing sexual violence is first and foremost the adult’s responsibility and it is important to avoid putting all the burden on children’s shoulders.

5. Other helpful hints to accompany The Underwear Rule

Reporting and disclosure
Children need to be instructed about adults who can be part of their safety network. They should be encouraged to select adults whom they can trust, are available and ready to listen and help. Only one member of the safety network should live with the child; the other should live outside the immediate family circle. Children should know how to seek help from such a trust network.

Known perpetrators
In most cases the perpetrator is someone known to the child. It is especially difficult for young children to understand that someone who knows them could abuse them. Keep in mind the grooming process that abusers use to win the trust of children. Informing parents regularly about someone who gives gifts, asks to keep secrets or tries to spend time alone with a child must be a set rule in the house.

Unknown perpetrators
In some cases the perpetrator is a stranger. Teach your child simple rules about contact with strangers: never get into a car with a stranger, never accept gifts or invitations from a stranger.

Children should know that there are professionals that can be particularly helpful (teachers, social workers, ombudspersons, physicians, the school psychologist, the police) and that there are help lines that children can call to seek advice.