Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Incest: The Crime that Devastates Lives

This is a continuation of my previous posts—Sexual Assault Awareness & Sexual Abuse: A Rule of Thumb—in recognition of April being Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month,

Incest is, to me, one of the most destructive and wounding crimes that can be committed against a person. It is a crime that devastates lives and has been so recognized since prehistoric times. Technically, Incest is sexual contact between persons who, because of the nature of their kinship, are prohibited by law or custom from marrying. The incest taboo—which is primarily between siblings—is one of the oldest and perhaps most universal that humans have recognized. Yet, anthropologists find it a perplexing prohibition and have developed numerous theories, some of which are contradictory.

It is not my intention in this post to discuss either the legal aspects of incest nor its anthropological/sociological facets. Rather, I want to explore the impact on the lives of those children who are the victims of incest, regardless of the kinship between victim and perpetrator. Therefore, I am defining incest as sexual contact between an adult and a child in the same family. I am not including sexual contact between siblings, although that can be devastating to the younger of the two. I am including parents—including stepparents— uncles and aunts, and grandparents.

When I write that incest is a crime that devastates lives, I refer not only to the act itself but also to the psychological impact of the act on the lives of the victims. Incest may leave its victim with a lifetime of feelings of guilt, shame, and worthlessness. Because incest is typically a “family secret” that is never spoken of within or outside the family, the victim often lives with these feelings in solitary anguish. I believe personally—without scientific verification—that it has only been in the past forty or so years—and with the growth and support of the modern feminist movement—that victims of incest have had the courage and been encouraged to break the family code of silence and tell their stories. Because of this silence, "back then" it was difficult for most people to believe that the crime of incest was as prominent as it is.

Thus, Rae in New Zealand can accurately comment on my blog post of April 12:
Back then sexual abuse wasn't talked about. People knew it happened and believed it but social conditioning, namely fear, over generations taught otherwise. I'm a third generation sexual abuse survivor. Twenty-two years ago, I took my step father to court for sexually abusing me from the age of nine. Back then the judge in his summary to the perpetrator stated that "This is not something that I've come across before and because the issue is so new, and you have no prior convictions, you will be required to do community service and undergo counselling with a trained psychologist." Back then there were no 'trained psychologists' so he got off with a smack on the hand and a "don't do it again'.

Rae uses the term similar to incest survivor, which is quite appropriate. It is not easy to live with the psychological baggage and pain that comes from being sexually victimized by one who supposedly is an adult who loves and protects you. It took an enormous amount of courage for people such as Rae to take the one who sexually abused them to court, especially in the days when officials—such as the judge on Rae’s stepfather’s case—had little or no knowledge about incest and its ramifications on the lives of its victims. I applaud Rae and all survivors of incest—and especially those to risked taking action again their abusers.

Rae’s story and the stories of all incest survivors touch me personally. My ex-wife is a survivor of incest, who, like Rae, prosecuted her abuser—her natural father. I lived with her as she when through the trauma of many years of therapy and remembering the details of the abuse she and her three sisters suffered at the hands of their father. I was with her in court when her father pleaded “no contest”—an Alfred plea—and was sentenced to prison for his crimes.

In tomorrow’s post I shall write more about how the victimization of my ex-wife by her father not only devastated her life, but our marriage and our children, too.


  1. Excellent post :)
    I've just ad a case recently where the mother forced her daughter to have sex with the mothers boyfriend, the whole story is quite unbelieveable, i shall post it soon.

  2. so many horrible things!! but unfortunately it exists and so it behooves us to be aware of what to do and how to help. It takes so little to destroy the esteem, the confidence and trust of a child. You wish you could spare every single child the anguish of such a horrific act.

  3. Not much stuff knots up my stomach; however bro you seemed to find something.

  4. It has been going on for a long time.

  5. Thoughtful post nick. I know a girl who was sexually abused by her father. What beats me is that nothing was done about this, and everyone behaved as if nothing has ever happened. The girl is married today and i don't think she's got over the trauma. How she faces her father, rather, how her father can look her in the eye is something i can't even imagine.

    Another woman in her late sixties was supposedly a victim of incest. She's one of the most troublesome person's i've come across, one who's filled with all sorts of negativities and a terrible self-hatred. Maybe her earlier experiences had this effect on her behaviour, God knows.

    And it's true that in most cases, it's the girl who suffers. I've rarely come across young boys being handed out this treatment(except, of course in Micheal jackson's case).

  6. It amazes me how much of this goes on. I have personal friends that have experienced this in their past; which ultimately affected their later years in life. Psychologically it is a crime----with or without legal standings. I don’t understand why anyone would do such a thing. I don’t understand how people cannot see the boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. That’s just me though. I also don’t understand those who are pedophiles. It puzzles me. What an interesting and sensitive post.

  7. My wife is a survivor of incest and she did it by going multiple, of course that created a whole new set of problems but it at least enabled her to survive the trauma. Sadly the family still refuses to admit what happened, at least openly. She was told a couple of months ago that one of her uncles told her cousin on his deathbed NINE years ago that uncle bob had abused T ever since her childhood!! He never told T he knew or anyone else, on top of that T's cousin kept it to herself for nine years before telling T. So for the past 50 years she has had self doubts lingering, maybe I did imagine it, maybe I this maybe I that and now she finds confirmation of what happened. This same family knows a son of Uncle Bob is carrying on the family tradition, he raped his younger step brother! No one reported it and when T said it needs to be done the entire family turned on her, again. She is now "divorced" from her blood family because they support the abusers and not the abused. By the way she reported him to the Div of Family Services. In 2006 this exists, maybe we haven't evolved very far at all.