What is Incest?

In the past, it was believed that incest was incredibly rare. Although incidences of incest are now known to be much higher than previously thought, it is still difficult to pinpoint exactly how common it is, for multiple reasons. First, there have been varying definitions of incest over the years ranging from only sexual intercourse to a full range of sexual behaviors. Second, many, if not most, victims of incest do not report the abuse. Nonetheless, studies have estimated that there are somewhere between 10 to 20 million victims of incest in the United States. Girls are more frequently identified as victims of incest, outnumbering boys by 10 to 1. However, it is unknown whether this is due to boys being less likely to report.

Incest can occur at any age, but usually occurs when a child is between the ages of 8 and 12. Some studies point towards abuse victims having repressed memories. The younger the abuse begins, the more likely the memories are to be repressed. This means that young victims might forget their abuse, and therefore, it goes unreported.

There are two major categories of incest: consanguinal (between blood relatives) and affinal (between relatives by marriage or adoption). Additionally, incest can occur between non-relatives, such as foster parents or live-in partners of a parent.

There are varying levels of incest as well. The closer the relationship, the more “forbidden” the sexual relationship. This means that a sexual relationship between a mother and son causes more harm and destruction than a sexual relationship between second cousins. After parent-child incest, sibling incest is reported to cause the most harm to the victim. There are many factors that can increase harm, such as the degree of betrayal, the greater risk of entrapment, increased availability, and the duration, frequency, and severity of the incest. Incest within the nuclear family typically tends to increase these variables.

Although in some cases affinal relationships are still frowned upon, they are less taboo. Step-parent/child incest is the most taboo in this category, followed by incest between stepsiblings. The weakest taboo involves quasi-relatives, such as foster parents or live-in partners.

The laws against incest vary depending by state. Laws will typically prohibit marriage and sexual intercourse between blood relatives, but some states allow certain relationships (such as distant cousins) to occur. Most laws also prohibit affinal relationships, but quasi-relatives are typically not prohibited by incest laws. However, quasi-relative relationships might still be illegal based on rape, child abuse, statutory rape, domestic abuse, sexual assault, and criminal sexual conduct laws. Even though quasi-relatives are not legally classified as incest, they are still incestual in effect and can inflict the same damage on victims.

Incest can cause a number of long-term effects. It is a form of traumatic stress and is similar in effects as child abuse in general. Due to the nature of incest, many children have to use strong defenses in order to cope. They may deny or dissociate, which may lead to the victim minimizing, discounting, or suppressing the abuse. These defenses can very well continue into adulthood, which causes some victims to seem unaffected by the trauma. However, they are emotionally restricted, and will likely develop negative effects once they accept that the incest was abuse.

Many victims of incest do not have access to the necessary resources to escape their abusive situation or receive treatment. Some of the most common problems incest victims face include eating disorders, anxiety, depression, dissociative disorders, and substance abuse. Survivors might also continue the cycle against other and need treatment for anger management, domestic abuse, or sexual abuse. Since incest usually begins in childhood, it can change the course of development for children. They might develop personality disorders, have attachment problems, difficulty forming healthy relationships in the future, and sexual identity problems.

If you are a victim of sexual abuse, the attorneys at Wilshire Law Firm can help with no upfront fees required. If you require medical or psychological therapy and lack the funds or insurance to pay for treatments, we can arrange for those services to be provided at no cost to you until the settlement for your case has been paid. Whether those charges are withheld by the providers or we arrange for a secured loan to pay for them, you pay nothing out of pocket until we collect your settlement.