The Underwear Rule

No parent looks forward to having to talk to their child about how to keep themselves safe from sexual predators, but the harsh reality of our world is that it is absolutely necessary to have this talk with each and every one of our children.

Recently, a 15 month-old little girl from a town just 55 miles from where we live was taken from her crib in her father’s home, sexually abused, and murdered. This case shook me to the core because it was a little too close to home. The baby girl that was victimized was only slightly older than our son, Birdie, and the girl lived in a town that my father currently lives in and that I had lived in for 11 years. This case forced me to revisit The Underwear Rule with Magoo. We have already had “the talk” numerous times; no one is allowed to touch you or ask to touch you anywhere where underwear (panties or a bra) would cover. If you ask Magoo the places that someone is not supposed to try to touch she will point at all the places we have gone over in the past. She knows that if anyone ever tries to touch her, lure her, or makes her uncomfortable in any fashion that she needs to tell one of us immediately, or tell another adult that she trusts. Despite all of this, the one thing that I hadn’t done was step out of my own comfort zone and explain to her that the reason that we caution her about anyone touching her is because there are some very bad people that try to do things like that to children at times. We showed Magoo a photo of the little 15 month-old victim, Shaylyn Ammerman, and explained to her that she was no longer with us because a very bad man was very mean to her. We explained that he did not follow The Underwear Rule and that he did not respect the fact that Shaylyn’s body was her own and that it was no one’s place to touch her. Magoo nodded silently and asked, “why?” I was as honest as I could be; “I don’t really know why, sweetheart. Sometimes there are bad people that do bad things. That is why when Mommy, Daddy, or another adult that you trust tells you something you need to listen very carefully. When we tell you “no” to something or tell you not to leave our sight, it’s not because we are being mean or trying to ruin your fun, it’s because we are trying to keep you safe because we love you very much and we would never want anything bad to happen to you.

The harsh reality is that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of childhood sexual abuse.

  • Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident;
  • During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
  • Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
  • Children are most vulnerable to CSA between the ages of 7 and 13.
  • 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually victimized were assaulted by someone they knew well
    (Victims of Crime)

Re-read those statistics. Now, instead of just thinking of “1 in 5” or “1 in 20,” think of the children you know – put faces to those numbers. Numbers this high are inexcusable and every parent and child should know about The Underwear Rule. Parents need to encourage their children to love their bodies, respect their bodies, and to know that God made their bodies special and that no one has a right to disrespect them or their bodies.

As uncomfortable as it is, we should also be sure that our children know the proper anatomical names for their body parts. This is a hurdle that was difficult for me since I grew up referring to these parts simply as “privates,” and nothing else. “We described the relevant research and the reasons for using anatomically correct terms — to give children the language they need should they need to report, especially should they need to report to law enforcement or the department of social services,”says Anthony Rizzuto, Ph.D., the child psychologist who oversaw the implementation of prevention education in 360+ Boston Catholic schools and churches.

Another way I stepped out of my comfort zone was by not just reading books to Magoo about how her body is hers alone, but we also read My Body Belongs to Me, in which the friend of a little boy’s uncle touches the little boy inappropriately, but since the boy’s parents had taught him what to do in that situation he was able to go straight to his parents and let him know what happened. The parent’s reacted lovingly and assured their son that he had done the right thing. The book also mentions other adults that children can talk to should they find themselves in a similar situation.

While these conversations are never easy, I feel they are necessary for the safety of our children.

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