But DO speak with them about ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ touch.
Puzzled? Well, with a host of ‘good touch-bad touch’ videos and articles doing the rounds, it’s easy to be. Here’s the thing though – language matters! And when it comes to your child, using appropriate terminology can make a world of difference in how they understand, report and process sexual abuse.
As I learned from the good folks at Tulir, here are two critical reasons you need to make the switch from ‘good’ and ‘bad’ touch, to ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ touch:
‘Bad touch’ can feel good: Sexual abuse, among other things, may involve touching or stimulating the child’s private parts or genitalia. Being erogenous zones, it is possible (and normal) for the child to find this touch physiologically pleasurable and that potentially creates confusion – is it ‘bad touch’ if it feels good? Such confusion may lead the child to not report abuse at all.
‘Badness’ of the touch can be internalised: If a ‘bad touch’ happens, it is possible the child internalises the value associated with it. So, ‘bad touch’ can morph into feeling as if, “I’m bad, or dirty or damaged because bad touch has happened to me.” Whereas ‘unsafe touch’ translates into, “I’m unsafe, or something happened that wasn’t safe for me.” In other words, ‘bad’ can feel more damaging than ‘unsafe’. In the latter case, it can be explained to the child as similar to other health or safety concerns, like injury, or fire, or road safety. These are serious, but don’t have a stigma attached to them. But ‘something bad has happened’ (‘kuch bura ho gaya’) evokes a different feeling altogether, and can seem more traumatic.
BONUS TIP: The child may not always be able to decide whether a certain touch is ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’, especially when they feel ambivalent about it or it involves someone they love and trust. So talk to them about ‘confusing touch’ as well. Let them know there can be situations in which they might be unsure of how they feel, or if the person intended to touch them in that manner at all. In any such confusing situation, instead of trying to decide whether it’s worth reporting, they should share it with you so that you can ensure the appropriate steps are taken.
A version of this post was originally published here. It has been republished with the author’s permission.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at email@example.com. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.