Incest is one of the least talked about crimes in today’s society. For centuries, incest has been an almost international taboo and remains so today. Incest is defined as sexual contact between persons who are so closely related that their marriage is illegal (such as parents and children, uncles/aunts and nieces/nephews, etc.). A victim of incest may have been exposed to:
- Sexual contact or interaction between family members
- Oral-genital contact, genital or anal penetration, genital touching of the victim by the perpetrator, any other touching of private areas, sexual kissing and hugging
- Verbal invitations to engage in sexual activity, the usage of pornographic material and reading of sexually explicit information to children
Unfortunately, many times incest remains concealed by the victim due to guilt, shame, fear, social and familial pressure as well as coercion from the abuser. Due to the fact that the victim conceals the abuse, it remains unreported to authorities. Victims may not build the courage to report their abuse because:
- The victim has been told that what is happening is normal or happens in every family, and doesn’t realize that this is a form of abuse
- The victim may not know that help is available or who to talk to
- The victim may be afraid of consequences that may occur if they tell someone because:
- The abuser may have threatened the victim
- The victim may care about the abuser
- The victim may be afraid of what will happen to them if they report
- A victim may be under the impression that no one will believe them
- The victim may be afraid that other will accuse them of wrong doing
In many ways, incest can be potentially more damaging towards a child due to its disruption of child’s primary support system: the family. In typical cases of abuse outside of the family, a child’s family is able to offer support. In the case of incest, the abuser is a family member, making it difficult to find resources outside of the family. This prolongs the recovery process for the child. In addition, incest often affects a child’s ability to trust because their abuser is someone who was their caregiver, someone they trusted. Finally, incest victims may be damaged by a non-abusive parent choosing to not stop the abuse from occurring, which may occur for a variety of reasons:
- The non-abusing parent may feel they are dependent on the abuser for income and or shelter
- The non-abusing parent may feel that if they try to end the abuse, their relationship with their partner will end
- The non-abusing parent may have been a victim of incest as a child, therefore under the impression that it is normal for families
If you have been a victim on incest, or suspect abuse by incest of someone you know, it is important to report. You can help end the cycle of abuse. Victims should realize that what is happening to them is not their fault and that they do not have to handle the situation alone. The first step in ending the abuse is to tell a trusted adult or contact your local Child Abuse Protection hotline. In Pennsylvania, to report abuse, contact ChildLine at 800-932-0313. Their services are offered 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. If you believe a child is in immediate danger, don’t hesitate to call 911.
If a child discloses abuse by incest to you, it is essential to listen to their story and above all, believe what they are telling you. Depending on your relationship with the child, you may be required to report their situation to the authorities. Teachers, ministers, counselors and many other professionals are considered mandated reporters and are required by law to report child abuse, including incest, to the authorities. To check if you are a mandated reporter or not, visit RAINN’s Mandatory Reporting Database. Even if you are not required by law to report, contacting your local Child Abuse Protection hotline is the best way to help protect the victim. After the report has been made, and services have been provided, the victim still may need support. Follow up with the victim and let it be known that you do care.
- Caruso, Beverly. (1987). The Impact of Incest. Center City, MN: Hazelden Educational Materials.
- “Incest.” Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 July 2013. <http://www.rainn.org/get-information/types-of-sexual-assault/incest>.
- Matsakis, Aphrodite. (1991). When the Bough Breaks. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.