Incest is one of the most common forms of child sexual abuse (Governors Commission on Domestic Violence, 1996, p. 37). Unfortunately, the U. S. statistics on this topic is barely available, as the entitled researchers have access merely to reported cases, which give following information: 46 per cent of child rapists are family members, 70 per cent of whom have been at least once imprisoned (ibid).
Nevertheless, the statistics suggests that incestual relationship might occur even in non-deviant, decent nuclear families, because the positive correlation between the rapists previous crimes and child sexual abuse points merely to the fact that such crimes are more frequently discovered. The causes of incest can be categorized into three groups: biological, sociological and psychological. Biological factors indicate that certain percentage of inbreeding is important: any system of inbreeding that is reasonably possible would not greatly reduce the heterozygosity of the population (Williams, 1994, p.
1167), but this approach doesnt actually clarify the reasons for child sexual abuse. Sociological perspective is oriented to societal factors, such as popularization of sexuality in its different forms (including illegal distribution of child pornography) and the societal roots of deviance as the violation of sociocultural patterns of sexual behavior: in macrosociological terms, sexual assault of children might be rooted in social inequality, distortion of family constructs (family roles and responsibilities) and anomia, i. e., poor implication of moral values in certain society of community (ibid).
Psychological factors also enjoy diversity that includes the presence of personality, mental health and sexual disorders (pedophilia) and predispositions to sadistic behavior in abusers, so that family members can use sexual assault as a form of punishment as well as the means of satisfaction their sexual needs. It needs to be noted that incest is unacceptable from both sociological and psychological positions, so this crime intrinsically implies certain either social or personality pathology (Sedlack and Broadhurst, 1996).
The main effects of incest on child can be explained through the influence of the abuse on child behavior and the coping mechanisms, which arise in response to the harassment. First of all, the child experiences fear and powerlessness, since they can no longer control his/her life and body, if the victim is aged over 7-8, he/she normally feels shame, responsibility and guilt, as the small individual already understands that normal order of things has been upset, but still has underdeveloped mechanisms of cognition to realize the depth of the problem.
Furthermore, such traumatic experience detaches the child from non-offending parents, brothers and sisters. This isolation often leads to the child being labeled as different, a problem, or in some way different from their siblings. Children feel betrayed because they are dependent upon adults for nurturing and protection and the offender is someone who they should be able to love and trust. They may also feel betrayed by a non-offending parent who they believe has failed to protect them (Putnam, 1989, p. 271).
If the assault takes places regularly throughout the long period, the underage victim is likely to suffer from nightmares and flashbacks, including hysterics, unexplainable tearfulness, rapid and momentary mood changes. Moreover, the research reports the increase of aggressiveness in such children: such destructive impulses can be directed either on childs personality (and consequently affects internal world, thoughts, reflections) or towards external objects and other individuals (including the abuser and non-offending family members).
Adams argues that both overt and emotional (treating the child like ones partner without direct sexual assault) incest finally amplifies the victims aggressiveness, hostility and irritability, and substantially inhibits his/her social skills, making the child reluctant to establish new contacts with coevals (Adams, 1991). As for the coping mechanisms, the victims of intrafamilial sexual assaults usually develop memory suppression, dissociation and denial.
Memory suppression implies voluntary forgetting of the negative emotional states, ensured during the abuse. The victims therefore attempt to separate the negative incest experience from conscious awareness. Dissociation is a way in which some children survive abuse by escaping mentally while the abuse is happening. The body and the mind seem to separate. While the body is being hurt, the child no longer feels it because the mind manages to escape to a perceived safe place. Different children may dissociate in different ways.
One example is leaving the body and floating on the ceiling over the bed where the abuse is occurring (Williams, 1994, p. 1171). Denial, as a rule, has two forms: denying the fact of incest and disclaiming the negative moral evaluation, which can be given to the fact (Its not actually wrong). The most dangerous about these mechanisms is their critical impact on the victims social functioning, as these defenses are aimed at maintaining physical survival, neglecting thus the related deterioration of emotional state.
Those family members, who become aware of intrafamilial sexual assault, normally decide on the strategy of non-intervening, since this phenomenon often takes place in authoritarian families, where everyone has certain degree of fear for the perpetrator. Due to the fact that the forceful sexual contacts usually occur between male adults and female children (father and daughter) (Governors Commission on Domestic Violence, 1996) and that the same male adult often commits violence over his spouse, it is possible to presume that the entire family is intimidated by the perpetuator.
As for the impact on the criminal him/herself, this person, as psychological research suggests, gradually develops sadistic propensities (Williams, 1994) and expresses cruelty when sexually abusing the child. If family havent yet noticed the internal incestual relationship, the perpetuator utilizes certain methods of maintaining secrecy and becomes more reserved and reticent even in the most trivial daily routines.
Moreover, such criminals become increasingly more cunning and create a special communicative code, understandable only for his/herself and the child in order to enhance the organization of incestual relationship. In addition, perpetuators also use denial and rationalization as defense mechanisms (ibid), since intrafamilial sexual assault causes psychological trauma in the abuser, who breaks his/her moral convictions or the basic principles of societal coexistence.
The major indicators of incest include: 1) childs confessions/reports; 2) noticeable fear of certain family member; 3) extremely sophisticated understanding of sexual behavior; 4) persistent and inappropriate sexual play with peers, toys, animals or themselves; 5) sexual themes in the childs artwork, stories or play; 6) sleep disturbances and nightmares; 7) marked changes in appetite;
8) parentified or adultified behaviour e. g.acting like a parent or spouse; 9) poor or deteriorating relationships with peers; 10)self-mutilation: cutting of arms, legs, burning home made tattoos. Suicidal feelings and suicide attempts (Saunders et al , 2001, p. 8). The elimination of post-incestual effects usually correlates with treatment for post-traumatic disorder, but it is important to note that such trauma might cause irreversible changes in the victims convictions and perceptions (in adulthood coitophobia, sociophobia, claustrophobia).
As a rule, psychiatrists use cognitive processing therapy in order to provide appropriate cognitive restructuring and systematic desensitization concerning the negative memories; dynamic play therapy (using puppets when expressing fears); art therapy; family therapy (aimed at supporting the victims re-adjustment to the family environment) and attachment-trauma therapy (based upon placing the child into emotionally warm and friendly environment) (ibid).
Similar psychological aid should be provided to the perpetuator: either in mental health or in penitentiary institutions they receive special cognitive-behavioral training, pharmaceutical treatment, but as a rule, the major intervention frameworks insist on complete separation of the abuser from the victim (Putnam, 1989), as the childhood experiences tend to return after meeting the perpetuator.
Works cited Adams, K.(1991) Silently Seduced: When Parents Make Their Children Their Partners, Understanding Covert Incest. HCI. Governors Commission on Domestic Violence. (1996). The Children of Domestic Violence: A Report of the Governors Commission on Domestic Violence of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Boston. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Putnam, F. (1989). Diagnosis and Treatment of Multiple Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford Press. Saunders, B. , Berliner, L. and Hanson, R. (2001).
Guidelines for the Psychological Treatment of Intrafamilial Child Physical and Sexual Abuse. Charleston, SC: Authors. Sedlak, A. and Broadhurst, D. (1996). Executive Summary of the Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, DC: U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. Williams, L. (1994). Recall of Childhood Trauma: A Prospective Study of Womens Memories of Child Sexual Abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 62 (6): 1167-176.