How a cartoon dinosaur is helping keep young children safe from sexual abuse
A rise in sex offences against young children in the North East has prompted the NSPCC to relaunch its Talk PANTS child safety campaign.
Police figures show there have been 522 sexual offences recorded against children aged four to eight in the region in just one year.
The total number recorded across England and Wales during the period is 6,613 - and the actual number will be higher, as 13 out of 45 police forces did not release data.
In Northumbria there were 364 offences recorded against four to eight year-olds in 2016-17, compared to 81 the previous year.
In Cleveland there were 158 offences recorded in 2016-17, compared to 142 the previous year. Durham Police did not release data.
The figures, gathered by the NSPCC through a Freedom of Information request, come as the charity relaunches its Talk PANTS campaign.
The campaign helps parents with under-eights have vital conversations about staying safe from sexual abuse by teaching youngsters important safety messages.
Research by the NSPCC found many parents are worried that talking to young children about sexual abuse would be scary and confusing for them.
To help, the charity has created a catchy song and activity pack - featuring cartoon dinosaur Pantosaurus - which don’t mention the words sex or abuse, so it is easier to tackle the sensitive subject.
It has also produced a new, fun video which shows other young children using the Pants activities.
PANTS is an acronym which spells out a safety message to young children:
P - Privates are private
A - Always remember your body belongs to you
N - No means no
T - Talk about secrets that upset you
S - Speak up, someone can help
Donna-Marie Wright, a mum of seven, is a passionate supporter of the Talk PANTS campaign.
She said: “I think Talk PANTS is a brilliant concept, because having been abused myself as a child I wanted to talk to my children about staying safe from sexual abuse, especially the younger ones (aged four and five) because they don’t really understand.
“It’s a fun way to engage the kids, and the Pants activities are done in a non-invasive way – there is no talk of sex.
"As soon as they are old enough to understand, it is a conversation all parents should have with their children.”
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “We know that lots of parents have already used Talk PANTS to speak to their children about the dangers they may face from sexual abuse as they grow up, both in the online and offline world.
“However, the figures we have revealed today show we all need to do more to help young children learn how to stay safe from sexual abuse. These conversations should be as normal as teaching them to cross the road.”
Parents and children can sing along with Pantosaurus, who explains each letter of PANTS.
The NSPCC said a number of factors could have contributed to the rise in recorded sexual offences, including:
:: police forces improving recording methods
:: children, young people and concerned adults feeling more confident in coming forward about abuse following high-profile cases
:: online grooming enabling perpetrators to reach more children.
Talk PANTS was originally launched in July 2013, and was previously known as ‘The Underwear Rule’ campaign.