“Good touch-Bad touch” not enough, need to revoke these misnomers

Most of the awareness campaigns and videos focus on the touch on private parts as bad touch and all the other touches as good touch.This could be misleading.
Image used for representation only(Photo | Pixabay)
Image used for representation only(Photo | Pixabay)

In a recent judgement in Kerala, the Fast Track Special Court in Trivandrum sentenced a man to rigorous imprisonment for five years for sexually abusing a minor boy in 2020 under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.

The nine-year-old boy said in the court, “That was a bad touch. I learnt from school about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ and can differentiate between the two. The uncle is guilty and should be punished”. It’s reported that once the incident took place, it was the boy who urged the parents to lodge a complaint.

Since 2016, POCSO cases have been on the rise in Kerala. Statistics reveal that while it was 2,122 cases in 2016, it rose to 2,697 in 2017, 3,179 in 2018 and 3,602 cases in 2019 according to the data compiled by the Kerala Police. While the cases have been on a steady rise, the number of convictions for these cases between 2016 and 2021 are meagre, most of them being “compromised” outside court.

The boy’s statement and his clarity to understand the issue proved that the right kind of sex education and awareness about predatory behavior, will not only help children differentiate between ‘bad touch’ and ‘good touch’, but will also help them report sexual assault. Moreover, the court observed the importance of imparting sex education at school.

What are we missing here?

The boy during the trial stated, the man had touched his private part and hence it’s a bad touch. This conforms to the definitions to good touch and bad touch of sex education at schools.

“Any touch that happens on the parts covered in a body by a swimsuit i.e. chest, between the thighs and buttocks is considered a bad touch. All the other touches are presumably good touches.”

However, in the current case, what if the man had touched any other part of the boy’s body with the wrong intentions? What if he had slipped him an adult magazine? What if he had shown the boy a porn clipping? What category would the child group these appalling actions into?

“Good touch and bad touch, as a concept is very confusing for the child. Because most of the time the abuser doesn’t directly go and touch the child on their private parts. Most of the awareness campaigns and videos focus on the touch on private parts as bad touch and all the other touches as good touch. For e.g. a child is supposed to take touch on a cheek as a good touch”, explained Sex educator Swathi Jagdish.

Swathi is an educator, trainer and influencer based in South India, she conducts workshops and engages with people via social media on a regular basis regarding the issues of sex education, parenting, lactation and more under the pseudonym Maya’s Amma.

She further shared her personal experience, “In my own case, the predator has not touched on my private part. But all the other kinds of touches this person has done has made me feel dirty. If a child is going through the same for three months or six months or how much ever time the abuser is taking to groom the child, during this period the child is likely to mistake all these touches as good touches. This is extremely dangerous, because grooming is how the abuser gains trust with the child. Hence it’s unlikely for the child to talk about these things.”

Swati talks about the significance of replacing these terminologies of good and bad with “Safe and Unsafe touch”.

“It need not be always touch either, it could be a look from the abuser, they could show their body parts, tell an adult joke to the child and ask if they understand it and more. Hence it’s essential to focus on the behavior than just the touch.”

Why the concept of Safe and Unsafe will work?

Even if the child is unaware of sexuality as a concept, a child is always aware of the emotions they go through. A child as young as six months old can understand emotions, be it happiness, anger, frustration or even fear. Where the logical brain has not developed yet, the emotional brain has.

So, we need to make sure these children focus on the emotions that they go through when somebody is with them, the highlight must be whether this particular person is making them feel safe or unsafe.

At home first, not at school

“The responsibility of educating the children about these key aspects falls upon parents, not teachers. The situations to teach these basic nuances creeps in at home, and not at school. It’s thus easier to do it at home, more than anywhere else. I have come across many parents through my workshops myself, people who wants to be educated on these issues, who wants to change for the better and do things differently, who seeks out evidence-based information to learn. These are people who wants to be better parents for their children,” Swati added.

While the statement of the nine-year-old boy is commendable, the need for sex education and knowledge of right vocabulary, efficient education by parents and its continuation by teachers is inevitable to encourage children to understand the nature of the abuses better and to report regarding the same.

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The New Indian Express