With Swati Popat Vats having just launched the booklet, A New Normal, at a CSA event at Parel last week, we see a progression of thought from the time when she came up with a first-of-its-kind slideshow elucidating ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ to children of Jumbo Kids.
A New Normal—the very name seems to create a tsunami inside as contradictions seem to tug at our heartstrings and conscience when we realise how thoughtfully Vats has named the booklet on child sexual abuse (CSA). While on one hand, accepting the very fact that CSA exists is far from easy, on the other hand knowing that our society is not living in denial anymore makes us want to welcome this happy progression. It is also apparent that from the introductory concepts of ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’, Vats now feels that the time has come to make the discussion more detailed and more public. She now focuses not only on how to understand and prevent CSA but also, should it happen, what to do thereon and how to heal the child.
Little children are sitting targets as they are innocent and thrive on touch–kissing and hugging come naturally to them and they enjoy reciprocating the same. As obvious, the younger the child, the lesser is their ability to distinguish between right and wrong, between people they can trust and people they should steer clear from, between reality and imagination. Also, as Vats points out, “Another issue is the lack of language development. Perpetrators take advantage of this and threaten the child to maintain silence.”
Since 24/7 vigilance is not possible, leading to the dependance of parents on strangers, the probability of a child being sexually abused increases proportionally. Herein, the parents and the school need to intervene and teach children that no one has the unstinted right to touch them except their parents. When asked at what age should parents make their children aware, Vats says, “Parents should start as soon as they have to leave their child unsupervised. If they are too young to understand words, even gestures can help. But it is the parents, primarily the mother, who should talk to the child as they share a security bond.”
Most parents in our society find it challenging to talk to children about sexuality even when the latter reach their tweens, so you can imagine how difficult they find the task of talking about the grim reality of CSA to toddlers. Vats advises, “In our culture, words like ‘vagina’ and ‘penis’ are a complete taboo, so you have to speak the child’s language. If he says, ‘wee wee’, the parents too need to say so; it is advisable that parents, especially the mother, shows them which part of the body they are referring to.” It is best to introduce children to their various body parts and then teach them to draw a distinction between the other body parts and areas like the lips, bottom and chest, which only parents can touch. Vats also points out, “Some are making a mistake by switching the phrases ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ with ‘safe touch’ and ‘unsafe touch’. Children are familiar with the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ from very early on; they will not understand terms like ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’; it will only add to their confusion.”
It is evident that it is time we accepted the existence of this grim reality and spread awareness to prevent the destruction of many more innocent hearts and dreams. Vats shows us the way forward.