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
The Underwear Rule has 5 important aspects.
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.
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
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.
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
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.