The Importance of Semantics – Safe and Unsafe vs Right and Wrong or Good and Bad

Our take on the terminology used as part of prevention programs:

We understand that the terms “Good Touch” and “Bad Touch” “Right and Wrong Touch” have often been used to help children understand these concepts, and such usage has been in existence in various countries as well. Very often, in India as well, child rights organisations often use the vocabulary of good/bad touch and right/wrong touch to refer to different kinds of touch.

However, we at Tulir tend to use a different approach. We refer to these touches as “Safe Touch”, “Unsafe Touch” and “Confusing Touch”. The reason behind this approach is, that we feel “good” and “bad” , “right and wrong” are absolute terms, having strong connotations. When we teach children about “bad or wrong touch”, it does not guarantee that they will never receive such “bad touch”. In the unfortunate incident of them receiving such “bad” touch, they may associate such experience with the connotative value of the word, thereby tending to believe that because they have received “bad” touch, they themselves are “bad”, “impure”, “defiled”, “dirty” etc. However, the words “safe” and “unsafe” are neutral (or relatively neutral), and therefore may not lead to such negative feelings in children’s mind when encountered with an experience of this sort.

Also, these terms put the onus of responsibility on the person who gives the touch (“s/he made me feel unsafe”), thereby pre-empt the possibility of the child blaming himself/herself for the act. There is more likelihood of children reporting an “unsafe touch” than a “bad or wrong touch” for the reasons as well. Moreover, children may confuse the word “good” with it’s culturally defined connotative value, and may confuse it with “pleasure”. However, “pleasurable touch” may not always and necessarily be a “good touch”. In order to address these concerns, we use “safe”, “unsafe” and “confusing” as opposed to other similar terms, even though in principle we are referring to the same concept.

Author: Tulir

This post has been cross posted at this link.

About Tulir: Tulir – Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse (CPHCSA) is a registered, nongovernmental, non-profit organization committed to working against child sexual abuse in India. They can be contacted here.