The following piece deals with incest and is not suitable for all readers.
Secrecy is a sexual predator’s best friend. It allows family members to use and abuse children at will and keeps them from being exposed and prosecuted. What are the keys to ending the secrecy that so many pedophiles depend upon? This article will explore that question and much more.
Because incestuous sexual abuse is so heinous, the adults who perpetrate the trauma always use secrecy to hide their crimes. Perpetrators of incest often use tactics to keep their victims in line such as threatening them or shaming them into silence.
There is evidence that keeping their abuser’s secrets causes children great harm.
It is known that at least 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys are sexually assaulted before the age of 18 with an overwhelming number of these incidents occurring within the family. The dynamics of secrecy keep children isolated away from others and feeling guilty and helpless.
The pain that children of incest feel cannot be calculated. A paper written in 1989 had this to say about incestuous secrecy:
“Secrecy compounds the trauma of the sexual abuse…” (Schatzow & Herman 1989).
Why Does the Secrecy of Incest Harm Its Victims?
The secrecy between an incest survivor and their perpetrator harms children, and later adults. For one, the victim of incest doubts their own experiences of reality because, when they disclose to their family, the family will often change the story, making the victim doubt their account of what happened.
Adults who were incestuously abused as children grow up to have many psychological problems, including:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Difficulties with sexual contact
- Periods of promiscuity
- Increased risk of adolescent pregnancy
- Intense guilt
- Drug/alcohol abuse
- Marital difficulties
- Increased risk of physically and emotionally abusing their children
- Several psychological disorders
- An increased risk of committing incest themselves
The above list does not include all the other problems faced by victims of sexual abuse.
Disclosing the Secret
To their detriment, research shows that many children do not disclose incest immediately, many do not report it for years and many never disclose what happened to them. Even when there is physical evidence, videotaped evidence, or confessions from the abuser, up to 43% of abused children are extremely unwilling to inform authorities of what the perpetrator did to them.
Many, if not a majority, victims of incest reach adult life, preserving the secrets of what a family member did to them. They have been groomed to believe in their heart that they are the reason for the abuse.
Love and loyalty also play a role in the secrecy of incest. Children are often groomed to believe that the perpetrator loves them by treating them in special ways and buying them gifts. Because of this preferential treatment, when the perpetrator tells the child to remain silent about the incest, the child often complies. The main reason for the compliance is the child’s fear of losing their preferential treatment and fear of abandonment.
Two-thirds of children who do disclose what has been happening to them tell a peer or friend. In a study published in 2008, they found that 80.5% of children disclosed to someone their own age (Priebe and Svedin, 2008). For this to happen, the abused child must trust that their peer will not tell someone else, thus leading to two or more children carrying the burden of this terrible secret.
The other third of incest abuse victims tell a parent, usually the mother, what is going on. But, what if the child’s molester is a mother?
Female Family Member Incestuous Behavior
Because children are very reluctant to report incest with a female family member, there is limited evidence and rates to report. However, there is evidence that points to cases where the perpetrator is female. One study performed in 2011 reported that 79% of victims of incestuous abuse were harmed by women (Deering & Mellor, 2011) and told no one what has happened or is happening.
Because female physical contact with children is acceptable in society, inappropriate touching is often missed or confused by the victim (Banning, 1989). Let’s face it, no one wants to admit that a mother whom society holds up on a pedestal of perfection and love could perpetrate such a hideous crime against her own children.
Boys who experience incest with a female perpetrator often look upon what is happening to them as a rite of passage or practicing for later because that is what their female abuser is telling them. Female victims are also told this lie by their perpetrators as well. Because male children feel shame, guilt, or are confused, they do not disclose it.
Most victims of female incest tell no one preserving the secret for life.
The Confusion of Incest
Perpetrators of incest cause great confusion in their victims, as they can be gentle. Abusers are committing horrible crimes against their related children, but their tactics and the abuse they are perpetrating do not feel wrong or frightening to the child.
The children, not knowing anything different, will assume that all children are treated that way by their adult family members. How could they know any different?
When these children awaken to the fact that what was happening is not normal, the confusion they feel is horrible. They do not know what to do with that information and might withdraw from all contact with other people or they may determine to keep the secret of what is happening to them even more.
On a personal note, I was a victim of mother/daughter incest, and because my mother was gentle, I didn’t understand that what was happening to me was abnormal. It wasn’t until the mother of another child learned about what was happening and refused to allow me to play with her child any longer that I sensed something was wrong. I remember feeling completely confused and suddenly very alone. I was in my late teens when the abuse finally ended.
Ending Our Time Together
I have spent the month of April discussing with you the tough topic of incest. I hope you have gotten something from these articles and that if you were a victim, you will seek help or tell your therapist or psychiatrist. It is important to tell on those who hurt you, even if you still feel loyal to them. It is time to put yourself first.
Is there a straightforward answer to ending incest or child sexual abuse of any sort? I don’t know. I wish I could make a list of things we can do to end this tragedy forever, but no such list exists.
The best thing to do for children who are living in the hell of sexual abuse is to tell the authorities. Even if the perpetrator is a beloved family member, the children are worth speaking up for because they cannot speak for themselves.
If you suspect a child is being abused, here are the numbers to call and text to reach the National Child Help Hotline:
Text: The same number: 1-800-442-4453
You can also chat on their website:
“We are a continuum. Just as we reach back to our ancestors for our fundamental values, so we, as guardians of that legacy, must reach ahead to our children and their children. And we do so with a sense of sacredness in that reaching.” Paul Tsongas
“Guardians are necessary for children and abnormal adults because they cannot make responsible choices for themselves.” Tom G. Palmer
Banning, A. (1989). Mother son incest: Confronting a prejudice. Child Abuse and Neglect, 13, 563-570
Deering, R., Mellor, D. (2011). An exploratory qualitative study of the self-reported impact of female-perpetrated childhood sexual abuse. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 20, 58–76.
Priebe, G., & Svedin, C. G. (2008). Child sexual abuse is largely hidden from the adult society: An epidemiological study of adolescents’ disclosures. Child abuse & neglect, 32(12), 1095-1108.
Schatzow, E., & Herman, J. L. (1989). Breaking secrecy: Adult survivors disclose to their families. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 12(2), 337-349.
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The Healing Book Club
The Healing Book Club, led by Sabra Cain, meets weekly to discuss a book about mental health issues. The current book that the club is reading is called Daring Greatly, written by Brene’ Brown, Ph.D. MSW.
Below is a brief look at the book.
Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable or to dare greatly. Based on twelve years of pioneering research, Brené Brown, Ph.D., MSW, dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.
Brown explains how vulnerability is both the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment and the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity. She writes: “When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.”
Daring Greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage.
Mindfulness, Prayer, and Meditation Circle
Meditation can be an integral part of healing from trauma. Our 9-week self-study video course helps you integrate this fantastic method of grounding, centering, and focus. Join the Mindfulness, Prayer, and Meditation Circle today!
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- Daily Calls
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All our services are reasonably priced, and some are even free. So, to gain more insight into how complex post-traumatic stress disorder is altering your life and how you can overcome it, sign-up; we will be glad to help you. If you cannot afford to pay, go to www.cptsdfoundation.org/scholarship to apply for aid. We only wish to serve you.
My name is Shirley Davis and I am a freelance writer with over 40-years- experience writing short stories and poetry. Living as I do among the corn and bean fields of Illinois (USA), working from home using the Internet has become the best way to communicate with the world. My interests are wide and varied. I love any kind of science and read several research papers per week to satisfy my curiosity. I have earned an Associate Degree in Psychology and enjoy writing books on the subjects that most interest me.