Friday, August 11, 2006

Incest: In family sexual abuse the child pays

The US and Canada are countries in which children pay the human cost for the unchecked sexual desires of those who “protect” them. It is called incest. Of course as a child, you don’t call it incest, even as an adult it is hard to connect the sexual abuse experienced to word which is so bad that according to Patricia D. McClendon, “talking about incest is a bigger taboo than incest itself.”

Incest is "...the sexual abuse of a child by a relative or other person in a position of trust and authority over the child.” That can include siblings or uncles, indeed father/daughter incest is one of the lowest percentages; step-father becomes significantly higher. Incest is a “shame” word, which implies that any participant, even unwilling or forced, is someone filthy and taboo. 46 percent of children who are raped are victims of family members; Eleven percent (11%) of (all) rape victims are raped by their fathers or step-fathers, and another 16 percent (16%) are raped by other relatives. But that’s not news to anyone is it? We don’t talk about it, but it goes on and on.

What is news to me is that many states complicitly sanction sexual child abuse as long as it is by family members, fathers in particular. This is done through what is called the “incest exception” in which parents or close family members who commit sexual abuse are given significantly lesser sentences. For example, in Illinois, If a person molests a child, he faces up to 30 years in prison. If he molests his own child, he can get immediate probation. These probations are meant to “keep the family together” which usually requires mandatory family counseling. So if as a young child you manage to report sexual abuse to someone who believes you, you go through the entire process of having people calling you a liar (Statistics show that in 98% of cases children's statements are found to be true), then you end up right back facing the person who sexually abused you in counseling to help THEM. Loopholes are often put in for state workers such as the Maryland rule that state workers having sex with a minor detained in a care facility are subject to a maximum of three years or a $3000 fine (to put that in perspective, if you make and sell pirate DVD’s you face 5-8 times the financial and prison penalties). Hmmm, how many times can you have forced or coerced sex with minors in your care for $3000, I wonder? A full list of the states with “incest exceptions” is found here.

The National Association to Protect Children works to close these loopholes, often with significant difficulty. A couple years ago, they worked to change North Carolina’s incest law which remained unchanged from a 1879 “law that said an uncle who raped his niece was guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by 45 days of community service”; a father would get probation. To draft a new law and get it passed met with resistance, as one state senator who initially voted against the law stated:

“Everybody down here just wants to punish somebody. Hell, I got this old boy back home, I can't get him out of jail! He fondled his niece—no penetration or anything, you know. Those sons of bitches gave him two years!"

"How old was the girl, Senator?"

"Aw hell, I don't know… Four?! Five?!"

Clearly sexually molesting young children is viewed by some as a "victimless crime."

What society currently ignores are the real costs, which are carried, not by the people who initiate and are responsible for the sexual abuse, but by the abused themselves. Common costs (oten at 50% of those abused or higher) for those who were victims of incest include: eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, Substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and suicidal attempts, and psychological need for treatment. “In addition, almost two-thirds of the women stated that they never or rarely went to the doctor or the dentist as the examination was too terrifying for them.” If you want a taste of the real cost of incest and sexual abuse, read Rhonda’s story on Wiccychicky’s blog.

For those who have been abused by their fathers or father figures, the cost seems excessively high; currently “There are 162,000 homeless youth estimated to be victims of commercial sexual exploitation in the United States and 61% of homeless girls and 19% of homeless boys reported having been sexually abused before leaving home.” Of those engaged in prostitution or survival sex, 66% were abused by their father or step father. In sexually abusing a daughter, a father or stepfather breaks the core trust of what protection is. These acts done to them redefine the very ways these girls view themselves and those around them. Male therapists to homeless survival sex teens often report that after they connect and form a bond with young female runaways, sex is offered, and when refused the girl becomes angry and confused. Sex is how these girls define who they trust. Father figures forcing themselves on young, often pre-pubescent girls give them a dilemma of who is good and who is bad. Can you want to love your father so much that you must be bad, so they can remain, in your eyes, the protecting and loving daddy? The sad truth is that, with the assistance of society and the law, the lights of young men and women are crushed, dimmed; sometimes made into literal human discards while those who did this to those under their care go on.

If children could be commoditized as easily as the DVD box set of Lost Season 2 or Pirates of the Caribbean, then laws would already be working through legislatures to protect them. Sadly, it is up to individuals, many still struggling with the shame and stigma placed on them, to say what should be self evident: sexually abusing your own family members is bad. Really bad. People get screwed up; for life. Let's stop it.

10 comments:

elizabeth said...

It is interesting to me that the crime is considered less heinous when it is incest - in so far as the law in concerned, when to me it seems infinitely worse. Thanks for getting this message out there.

Wiccachicky said...

Thank you for linking to my post today. I have been so incredibly sad and have been feeling like I am going through my grief alone. Having you help me talk about these issues on the internet is a major unexpected blessing. *hugs*

Elizabeth McClung said...

Elizabeth: I can't really explain why motions are not brought forward to stop these exceptions, but I think it has something to do with the societal taboos about speaking of incest at all - we have unlimited laws tracking, registering and incarcerating the 21% of strangers who molest children but have giant loopholes for the 40%+ of family members who do - The New York Loophole was finally closed - report on it here:(http://www.vachss.com/av_dispatches/nyt-11202005.html)

Wiccachicky: thanks, though often many remain silent on this subject (I don't know why), your blog made a real impact - My mother has forwarded to the PFLAG group she attends. Rhonda deserved better; and she deserves to be remembered as a fallen heroic combatant as much as any of those soldiers nationally honored.

deanie said...

Elizabeth,

Thank you so much!!!!!!

GayProf said...

As usual, you provide a tough but important post. I am also horrified by the notion of “keeping the family together” as reducing sentences.

Veronica said...

As someone that was molested by her stepfather, I can tell yout that the legal process was just as traumatizing as the abuse itself. My first gyno appointment happened with a cop in the room, because they needed to use a special camera (with light attachment!) machines to take pictures of my insides. I was 13. They struck up a deal where we only went to jury trial if I passed a polygraph test--which aren't admissable as evidence in Texas courts. So, after the test proved I was telling the truth, we went to court and he was acquitted.

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Kim said...

I did a search on why incest sexual abusers weren't arrested and your blog came up. My abuser (biological father) died last Monday. He was 71. I haven't talked to him in 26 years. I confronted him, spent 10 years in intensive 2x a week counseling, incest survivor support groups, and had him in twice with my therapist present so I could release anger. All I did was sob and read from a sheet of paper asking why. He didn't deny it but he also didn't own what he did. What he did was molest me from the age of 4 or 5 (I asked him how old I was and he said he thought 5) He said when he would molest me it was like it wasn't really him doing it. This is when my therapist gently reminded me that he clearly wasn't owning it and it was too dangerous for me to continue thinking of how to forgive him to the point of trying to reconcile what he did. Our group held a burial of sorts so I could move on. I wrote angry letters and such and moved beyond anxiety attacks and depression to having three children and being a wonderful mother and the complete opposite of him. I married two men who cheated on me and am now in my third marriage to a wonderful faithful man. He pays the price though for my father raping me. Its still so hard for me to trust him and he absolutely is true to me and is always loving me. I almost didn't respond to this post but since learning of my fathers death in an obituary that my brother saw I realized that I felt a sense of relief. He told me he would kill me if I ever told anyone and although I had all the counseling that I did and I knew in my head he couldn't hurt me because I was an adult now, in my heart from being told that from such a young age I held this belief at a very core level. I actually felt a sense of relief as if I knew I couldn't be killed anymore. I then felt sadness again that he stole my virginity, my innocense, got away with rape of a child, obituary farewells reading how wonderful and warm of a person he was, etc, etc. Its disgusting. I could never make sense of how someone could be so sick. I was able to somehow manage my feelings and rage by continually telling myself that people like my father are very sick psychopathic narcisstic liars and are just as sick as people who murder or doing any other crime whereby they are taking another person life. An incest survivor has had their childhood stolen from them and it can not be recovered. This is the first time I have ever written publicly about what happened to me. My family found out after he left the home and I have tried to write a book which I couldn't finish because of my feeling like I was living the nightmare. But now that he is dead I find myself talking to people about it. As people say they are sorry for my loss I tell them its not really a loss its a celebration. Of course I feel sadness but its not for the loss of my father (I never had a "father") its more of the sadness for the loss of my child self and the loss of never having a father/daughter relationship. It has made me wonder again about why more fathers aren't locked up. I asked my doctor that today and his answer surprised me. He said incest is not rare at all. That out of the 1 out of 7 cases that are reported it really is 1 out of 3 that are really molested. I said to him, I knew those statistics but its mind boggeling that this is the truth. This means that several people that you work with, live next to, see out to eat, see on TV, etc are child molestors or a survivor??? How is this ok with society? Your story shed light as to why this is. It is absolutely horrible that this is allowed in some states and laws protect perpeatrators. The doctor went on to say "It is very sick behavior and it is sad that people are wired to be this way". My first reaction was that he meant people are wired to be sexual beings and therfore this behavior is considered a misdeameanor or irrelevant. All day I have been thinking that he could not have meant that. But what else would he have meant?? The pain and trauma that I went through was horrific. I went to 3 different therapist in that 10 year period and all stated that most survivors don't continue going on as long as I did because it is so painful. I met other survivors who had multiple personality disorders, eating disorders, emotional disorders, etc. I will never forget when my second counselor suggested a support group and it was at a Family United Center. When I arrived I found out that in one of the other rooms there was a group for the perpetrators. I couldn't even go back because it caused me so much anxiety to even be in the same building with them. I could not understand how they could not be locked up. It was explained to me just what your story is saying, that they believe they should keep the family in tact. Their own statistics showed that the perpetrator very seldom gets better and the victim continues to be victimized and then many times beaten into further silence. I saw a story on Americas Most Wanted where two sisters got strong enough to try and track down their father to have him put in jail. I was surprised that they were even looking for him. It made me think of whether or not I should have had my father arrested. Who knows what other children he might have molested? It wasn't just me either. We had a young teenage girl that used to come and exercise our horses and I found him with her one night when I came down to get a glass of water. She was sexually abused too by my father. He was like mid 30's and she was only 16. I told one woman who he ended up with when he first left the house when I was 16 because she had 3 daughters but I was so afraid of the threat of "I'll kill you" and "who do you think the police will believe - me or you" that I never went to the point of having him arrested. If 1 out of 3 children are molested by their fathers and these laws exist to protect them, sadly children as I was, are right to be afraid of speaking up. No change will ever take place because survivors of sexual abuse are silenced by the threat of death and lawmakers and the judicial system continue to allow the silent perpetration of our children to go on. Thank you for putting up this blog. I am speaking out for the first time and maybe as more of us do, change will occur. Until children feel 100% that they will not be sent back to the perpetrator this will continue. I don't know what the answer is. I still feel that perpetrators have a serious illness to allow them to cross the moral threshold whereby they have no remorse or guilt that prevents them from going beyond thinking of molesting their child to actually doing it. I don't know how therapist that try and counsel these people do it. I think the only help for them is perhaps a lebotomy or castration like we do to animals. That may sound cruel but seriously I can't think of any other way? I would be willing to hear other peoples thoughts on this. Thank you again for providing an outlet for this silent epidemic. Sorry to go on and on but wanted to put it out there. I'm 49 now and this happened to me from 4 until 16.

Kim Improving said...

I have just found out I was molested by an uncle when I was only 3 or 4. I am now 46 and have had flashbacks. I always felt different from other kids and have suffered depression, low self esteem and suicidal thoughts for as long as I can remember. I am now trying to deal with the rage I feel and would appreciate any advice on how to do this as sometimes my rage comes as inappropriate times. I am married to a great man and we have 3 children, dont worry I dont see my uncle and wouldn't let him near them. I have problems being sexual with my husband is this normal too. Hope some one can advise me. Kim

Anonymous said...

my friend is in a wheelchair. she has cerebral palsy and can not get out of her wheel chair of her own accord,(She has to be physically lifted out and carried by another person.) She has been incestuously abused for ten years, age 9 to 20. she told once, when she was young.... the councilor said they would investigate, and come back in 3 days.... my friend was tortured by her adoptive father and threaten to never tell on him or he would drown her in the bathtub.. three days later, the councilor came and found the house immaculate the child quiet, not speaking, silently terrified.
i have been on the phone with her when she was lifted out of her bed by her adoptive father, brought down the basement and forced to have sex with him... often times there were other men from the community who he offered her to .. they would drink and have their way with her.. She had to perform sexual acts and they were allowed to have sex with her until all the men were satisfied. I waited and cried for her until she was brought back to her bed by her rapist adoptive father.
She still can not tell on him or her adoptive mother. She is a prisoner in so many ways...