The treatment of incest victims is often painful and difficult. With patience, a large proportion of those who have experienced incest can experience considerable improvement and enjoy an enhanced quality of life without succumbing to repeated victimization.
Few subjects in psychiatry elicit more profound, visceral, and polarized reactions than incest-the occurrence of sexual behaviors between closely related individuals-behaviors that violate society’s most sacred and guarded taboos. Furthermore, few circumstances confront the psychiatrist with increased complex, painful, and potentially problematic clinical dilemmas and challenges than treating the incest victim and/or the management of situations in which incest has been suspected or alleged by one person in a household, and denied, often with both pain and outrage, by the accused and/or other members of that family.
The study of incest being an actual phenomenon as opposed to as a fantasy is just a relatively recent event. In 1975, an authoritative text proclaimed that the incidence of father-daughter incest in the United States was 1 in a million families. Crucial contributions by feminist authors and traumatologists rapidly sensitized the profession to the frequency and significance of incest and its association with psychopathology. By 1986, Russell wrote that some type of father-daughter incestuous activity, ranging from minimal to brutal and aggressive, was found in approximately 1 in 20 families that included daughters and their natural fathers, and 1 in 7 families in which daughters resided with a stepfather. By the early 1990s, feminists, traumatologists, and contributors from the emerging study of dissociative disorders were engaged in a vigorous study of incest and treating incest victims.
However, during this period, there emerged a development of calling into question the recollections of those that reported incestuous abuse, mounting militant defenses of accused perpetrators. The rising amount of incest accusations was caused by faulty practices on the part of therapists who caused patients who recalled incest , particularly when the recollections have been absent from memory for a while and emerged either in the context of therapy or with the patient’s contact with certain media, books, and practices. Clinicians were accused of suggesting abuse that had never occurred and of causing their patients’memories to be contaminated with information and/or ideas that had planted erroneous ideas within their minds. Certain books and media were accused of encouraging false reports.
Consequently, for over a decade and a half the research and treatment of incest has been under a cloud of suspicion that’s impeded the advancement of understanding of this devastating form of abuse. Scholars have backed away from even utilizing the word, to the stage so it is becoming difficult to research unless one searches under more bland and innocuous terms. Between the entire power of the incest taboo and scholars’wish to avoid provoking acrimonious reactions for their work, the definition of “incest” has been receding from the literature. Even now, researchers rush to deny the frequency of incestuous abuse and to minimize its reality and the damage it could cause. However, a cautious examination of the literature demonstrates that the arguments that childhood sexual mistreatment isn’t damaging are seriously flawed.
This is not the format in which to examine 2 decades of acrimonious and polarized debate. I’ll proceed on the basis of what, within my view, are the very best data and knowledge now available. That data and knowledge strongly affirm that abusive incest is common, that its consequences are detrimental, and that it usually leaves its victims with considerable psychiatric damage and distress.
The contemporary study of incest and the contemporary treatment of incest victims proceed in the face of profound pressures to dissociate them from the mainstream of psychiatric concern. This avoidance, Courtois notes, “flies in the face of the truth that research has consistently discovered that nearly all sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone proven to or related to the child, and thus constitutes incest or is incestuous. Furthermore, although not absolutely all perpetrators have already been victims, many have themselves been mistreated, and avoiding the research and treatment of incest , specifically for male victims, bypasses a chance to reduce steadily the pool of future sexual offenders.
Table of Contents
What is incest?
Courtois states that “ incest is complex, encompassing a wide variety of behaviors between individuals of varying degrees of relatedness, with potential effects which are similarly complex and multidetermined.” More precise clinical and legal definitions differ widely as to the degree of blood relatedness deemed to constitute incest.
Defining incest is further complicated by the truth that the definition of is often used in reference to a couple of values and assumptions associated with a classic 2-parent nuclear family. In fact, in a society with a top incidence of divorce, blended families aren’t uncommon. Those that occupy probably the most crucial and important roles in a child’s life and who undertake the roles traditionally filled by blood relatives may not have a genetic relationship to a child, although they’re probably the most consistent sources of that child’s nurture and protection.
Courtois6 distinguishes between consanguineous incest , or sexual contact between blood relatives; sexual contact between a child and individuals that are a part of the child either legally or contractually (marriage to a child’s parent, adoption of a child, or serving as a foster parent); and quasi-relative incest , in which there’s sexual contact between a child and individuals bound to the child by neither relation nor contract, but that are a part of the child’s family and assume a household role connected with caregiving functions and responsibilities. Closely related and similar within their dynamics, but not formally deemed incestuous, are transgressions perpetrated within the context of the relationships of teachers, coaches, clergy, and psychotherapists with those that look for them as safe and positive presences within their lives.
Incest is considered abusive when the individuals involved are discrepant in age, power, and experience. The argument that a younger person might have desired, sought, or given consent is irrelevant. Those very behaviors could have been groomed, coerced, or generated in a reaction to perceived pressure and/or threat from the more powerful person.