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Incest Abuse: Effects And Prevention On Children

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Published: Thu, 11 May 2017

Incest abuse is an issue that is prevalent among family members including children. There are various short-term and long-term effects that children encounter throughout and after their abusive experience. These effects are extremely traumatic and cause stressors for children and within families. Incest can occur between any two family members regardless of age and gender. There has been a lot of research that has been conducted regarding incest, but it is often difficult to draw conclusions from research. This is because of vague definitions and unclear restrictions and guidelines. With everything considered, prevention is the most important step that society can take to try to reduce the number of incest cases.

Incest is a horrifying and tragic issue between family members typically involving one person of higher power and one of lesser power. In addition, it is extremely traumatic for children that do not know any different or that are still too young and naïve to understand what is going on. This topic is extremely important in the fact that more research needs to be gathered to understand why this is occurring within the family. This issue is more prevalent that many people realize. Therefore this paper is going to discuss issues relating to incest and sexual child abuse within families. It will include research and studies that relate to family incest and abuse. The paper will cover an analysis of research that has been conducted on the relating topic of incest including short term and long-term effects of incest.

There are many different forms of incest, but extensive research findings have only been implemented on a few of the forms. There are also factors such as certain age ranges and gender that are more likely to encounter incest abuse. As more research is being conducted regarding incest and abuse, there also needs to be more prevention implementation. Research is important because it allows researchers to find the reasons and causes of why this is happening. However, this issue of incest will not go away without some sort of prevention tactic. Prevention is an extremely important method to help reduce the prevalence of incest and abuse within families.

Incest can be a stressor and traumatic event that often causes short term and long-term effects on victimized children. There are issues such as chemical dependence, mental illness, and numerous psychosocial stressors that these victims can encounter (Courtois, 1997). In addition, the family can face disturbances within relationships and dynamics (Courtois, 1997). These issues include parental discord and immaturity, parent-child role reversals and triangulation, boundary violations, double-bind communications, and entrenched patterns of denial, secrecy and rigidity (Courtois, 1997). These are just a few of the effects that incest can produce among families.

Short-term effects of incest consists of, “those effects that the victim experiences or displays during and/or immediately after the incest and/or its disclosure (the most consistent include emotional)” (Vander Mey & Neff, 1986, p. 67). The victim can display a variety of emotions and feelings that are typically associated with short-term effects. These can include shame, guilt, fear, anger, in addition to feelings of being trapped, used, confused, betrayed, and humiliated (Vander Mey & Neff, 1986, p. 67). Not every victim will experience these short-term effects, but most often victims will experience one these emotional effects from incest abuse.

On the contrary, “Long-term consequences for the victim are those behaviors, attitudes, or opinions that the victim has or displays years after the incident(s) of incest: effects that are due directly or indirectly to the incest” (Vander Mey & Neff, 1986, p. 67). These effects go beyond emotional issues; they extend to larger deviant, antisocial, and/or illegal behavioral effects of the victims (Vander Mey & Neff, 1986, p. 67). Often times these behaviors include one or more of the following: promiscuity, inability to assume a wife/mother role, alcoholism, drug abuse, prostitution sexual dysfunctioning, delinquency, depression and suicide (Vander Mey & Neff, 1986, p. 67).

There seem to be many negative effects on children involved in incest abuse. There is also much controversy among research regarding the effects on the victims. There appears to be no definite absolute answers that tell us exactly what will happen to a child who is the victim of incest abuse. However, there is enough consistent data to conclude that incest is a major risk factor for a variety of serious aftereffects (Courtois, 1997).

The studies done in regards of victim effects seem to display a fairly strong variety of possible outcomes. As there is no definite solution to effects of children who experience incest abuse, there is a range of common potential results. There seemed to be little or no research regarding the lasting effects of the long-term consequences among victims. However, there was an overall consensus between research studies that each child is an individual and no two cases/situations are the same, and no two victims will walk away the same.

Within a family, each individual takes on different roles. There are common roles that characterize a perpetrator of incest. The most common is the “authoritarian father” who has absolute authority over the entire family (struggle of a power imbalance) (Blume, 1990, p. 34). In this situation the rest of his family fears the father (Blume, 1990, p. 34). He displays control and power and his wife and kids are on a constant guard trying to never upset him (Blume, 1990, p. 34). The father takes advantage of the power he has by sexually abusing his child(ren) and possibly his wife as well. There is also another type of father that is referred to as the “timid father” (Blume, 1990, p. 34). This dad is not able to stand up to another adult and express his feelings and is often considerd a “push-over” (Blume, 1990, p. 35). Since he seems to have no control within the family, he seeks his control elsewhere by sexually abusing a son or daughter of his.

There are many people who say that victims of child abuse will grow up to become abusers. However, Blume (1990) states that, “One is responsible for one’s adult acts; one’s past does not cause one to do violence to another” (p. 37). In addition, if it were true that these victims of abuse turn into abusers, then shouldn’t there be more women as perpetrators since women are more likely be seen as the victims? However, this is not the case because most incest survivors are female, and David Finkelhor says, “there is a male monopoly on child molesting” (Blume, 1990, p. 37).

It is important to remember that young girls are not the only victims of incest and that fathers are not the only perpetrators either. Perpetrators can include mothers, brothers, sisters, and extended family (Sloan & Porter 1984). Similarly, victims can consist of sons, daughters, cousins, etc (Sloan & Porter, 1984). There may be more prevalence in certain situations, but “incest is incest” no matter who the victim is or who the perpetrator is.

Researches have said that it is very difficult to accumulate research on the issue of incest. There are a variety of reasons for this with the foremost reason being defining incest (Blume, 1990, p. 26). There is no one definition of incest; there are various views on what constitutes as incest. Some are more restrictive than others. For example, some include touch as incest abuse, and others include “step-parents/siblings” as perpetrators of incest abuse. (Blume, 1990, p. 27). In addition, some say that any age under eighteen years old constitutes as incest abuse; however, there are other researchers other things (Blume, 1990, p. 27).

Prevention is the key to diminishing this issue. Just as it is important to have treatment centers and therapy for those who have experienced incest abuse, it is also important to implement preventative measures. Sloan and Porter discuss a prevention plan that was created and implemented by community health nurses into a public school. First, there was an emphasis on the importance that children are aware that teachers and school administrators are available to discuss nonacademic problems (Sloan & Porter, 1984). Second, the focus was to present as much information as possible to the children without frightening those who had not had these kinds of experiences (Sloan & Porter, 1984). Third, “the community health nurses wanted to provide children with a problem solving technique that could be used in a number of situations” (Sloan & Porter, 1984).

There was success in this program in the fact that they were able to present intense information to young kids without frightening or creating anxiety for them (Sloan & Porter, 1984). There were also only positive comments received from teachers and school officials (Sloan & Porter, 1984). However, the positive feedback that was received was only obtained through school administration and community health nurses who worked together to achieve their goal (Sloan & Porter, 1984). As this study seems very encouraging, there needs to be more aspects that are examined in order to determine the actual effects of the program. It is great that this particular program focused on children because it allows them to understand what incest and abuse is about, but there also needs to be a program that helps the adults as well.

The studies and information presented has, for the most part, seemed to follow in the same direction and correlate with each other. There is the basic overall conclusion of the idea that incest abuse is more prevalent than many people think and that prevention is the key to reducing the issue. All of the studies seemed to express how difficult incest research is due to various factors. These factors covered a wide range, while some research focused on victim’s lack of report and others emphasized the definition of incest.

The overall research seems to highlight the extremely sad situations and traumatic experiences that victimized children encounter. There are many short-term and long-term effects that children can experience due to incest abuse. The implications that are drawn from these issues is that there needs to be not only therapy for victims, but also prevention programs implemented to help decrease the issue of incest.


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