BBC’s touch test: “Who gets to call the boundary?”

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A major new study by BBC Radio 4 investigating the role of touch “in its many forms” was launched by Claudia Hammond on Tuesday, 21 January. The research project aims to explore touch across various forms, for example how touch is vital for medical students.

The tabooed “consent of touch” was also addressed during the radio discussion by Professor of Medical Ethics at St Georges University Deborah Bowman, Laura Bates from the Everyday Sexism Project and Professor of Psychology at
Goldsmiths University of London Michael Banissy.

The #metoo campaign was discoursed upon as being a possible reason that universities are now discussing consent without its professional context. Laura Bates championed the “courageous speaking out by survivors” of sexual harassment but noted how it is easy for people to suggest that “the problem has gone away”, just because there is a conversation on consent and touch now.

She said, “The truth is that we know that inappropriate touch, unwanted touch, different forms of abuse and assault through touch are still extraordinarily common, for women and girls in particular.”

Statistics also prove that sexual harassments and undesired touch is soaring, according to Laura.

The TUC’s study was referred to that shows nearly two in three (63%) young women in the UK have experienced sexual harassment at work.

The survey also points out that 23% (nearly a quarter) of women have experienced “unwanted touching”.

These results show that “we really are talking about an epidemic if you look at the statistics”, said Laura Bates. She went on to talk about how the dis-empowerment of social norms for young women and girls was also seen as a huge blow for addressing the issue, as women are told not to “make a fuss” about harassment. Professor Deborah Bowman asked the question, “Who is the touch for?” and “Who gets to call the boundary?” The answer, she said, was, “Of course the recipient.”

The social construct and makeup that Islam projects ingrains barriers that inhibit possible harassment and unwanted touch, especially for women. Over the years, many have raised eyebrows against the Islamic philosophy of touch, particularly handshakes between men and women. Islam teaches men and women to abstain from shaking hands with the opposite sex. Of course, this goes for all other forms of touch as well.

Touch, in all its forms (that are outside the professional constructs of touch, such as for medical purposes), is barred in Islam. Islam goes a step further and instructs both men and women in the Holy Quran to “Lower their gazes” (Surah al-Nur, Ch.24 V.31-33) – amplifying the boundaries of touch itself.

This is so because Islam is a religion coupled with human nature, and God, being the All Knowing and the Creator of mankind, has the perfect knowledge to draw the line in the sand for us. When society goes unchecked and opposes the laws of God, the inevitably dark and heart-breaking results begin to manifest.

The discussion on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday night led to a panelist saying, “We often expect young children simply to accept touch … but if we’re teaching children from a very young age, ‘Your body is public property; you don’t have a choice in this’”, then this can cause problems down the line.

Islam protects a person from the formation of a society where people allow themselves to think that others are “public property”. It guards and protects the whole society at large and calls mankind to create a moral and decent atmosphere in which people are not subjugated to the will of others. For us, God “calls the boundaries”.

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