Incest is a difficult word and concept. Some people get uncomfortable just seeing the word. Questions about incest and child sexual abuse can be hard to read about and even harder to answer. I hope that this series will help you find some help and peace in your life journey, and as you recover from the incest and sexual abuse you have suffered. Incest is sexual relations or sexual contact of any kind with a relative so close that marriage is illegal. On this site, we talk about incest in the context of child sexual abuse. In fact, the definition of incest in the On-line Medical Dictionary states that “incest involving a child is a form of child abuse”. Incest can include inappropriate touching, display of genitalia, and sexual intercourse. No matter what state or country you live in, there are strong laws and swift reactions to protect victims of child sexual abuse and incest.
Incest may also occur when there is an imbalance of power between the people involved, as in a relationship between a teacher and a student. Stepparents and stepchildren relationships seem to blur the line, but generally any sexual contact between legally related persons is considered incest. The first reason a child wouldn’t tell about incest, of course, is fear. The abuser threatened the child with violence. The classic example is in the beginning of Dickens’ Great Expectations, where Pip is threatened, is convinced of the truth of the threat, and of the omnipotence of the avenger. The incest abuser may threaten the child, other family members, or friends to ensure silence.
The second reason is the abuser threatened the child with rejection and ostracism. The incest abuser says that if anyone finds out, everyone will hate and reject the child for having “participated” in this. The child, feeling violated and dirty, is likely to believe the abuser.
Guilt and shame often play a big part in any child’s decision not to ask for help after incest has occurred. If they were raised in a house where sex is considered dirty or sinful, the child is unlikely to speak up. If the household is strict and authoritarian, the child may decide that their fear of the authority figure outweighs the need to get help.
Finally, the child may be uncertain what to think of the experience. Every child keeps secrets from their parents, and may wonder, “Is this like the time I smoked a cigarette and never told anyone, or like the time I broke my arm and had to get help?” Unless they have been taught about “good touch, bad touch, confusing touch” and what to do, they may choose the wrong option. People’s bodies respond differently to sexual abuse and incest, but bodily response is irrelevant. The only things that are relevant is consent and legality.
If you did not consent to the sexual contact, then it was wrong. It was a crime. Some criminals will try to convince you that the orgasm proves that you consented, and some ignorant judges or juries may believe it. But it simply IS NOT TRUE. Our bodies are made to respond to touching and contact even under severe duress. This does not mean you are in any way responsible or that you participated willingly. Incest most often happens to small children, who are in no way capable of providing consent to a sexual act. An orgasm is not considered consent. It was an involuntary reaction by your body, like a sneeze or a hiccup.
To illustrate the principles of consent, I will use a slightly less horrible example. A woman was being relentlessly pressured by her husband for sex. He drove her crazy. She tried to talk to him about it, but he would not accept her viewpoint, and kept bothering her. So eventually she would relent just to get some peace of mind.
After the sex, he always pointed out that she had also had an orgasm. He took it as proof that she had wanted sex too, and proof that he was doing nothing wrong.
But he was wrong.
In this example, the wife relented, which means that it was not a criminal act. But in a healthy relationship, sex is an act of love that celebrates a relationship. Afterwards, you should feel good about yourself, your partner, and the fact that you are together. But to this woman, sex was a chore. Afterwards, she felt lousy about herself, lousy about her husband, and was seriously questioning their entire life together. Her orgasm had no relevance to the fact that this was a seriously unhealthy relationship.
In the context of incest, abuse or sexual assault, the situation is even worse. In these instances, incest and the sexual abuse isn’t even about sex. Sex is merely the weapon used by the attacker to demean the victim as much as possible. In Old Testament times, soldiers of a victorious army would often rape the soldiers of the losing army — not because they were gay, not because they wanted sex, but because rape was the ultimate humiliation, the ultimate act of domination and violence. And everyone knew it.
It’s understandable that survivors of incest, abuse or sexual assault would be confused by their body’s response if an orgasm occurred. But make no mistake about it — that does not make it a sexual experience. It does not imply consent to sex or enjoyment, and does not negate the horrible emotional wounds that are inflicted by incest. It was an involuntary bodily reaction, like a cough or a sneeze. It should not be interpreted in any other way.
If you had an orgasm or response as a result of incest, please do not let that stop you from getting help in healing from the crime that was committed against you.
There are many effects of incest, both physical and emotional, which is why treatment by a qualified specialist is so important. Effects of incest and sexual abuse include:
* Inability to trust
* Attempts at suicide and self-harm
* Isolation and alienation
* Fear of being alone
* Fear of the dark
* Acting out behaviors
* Regression to infantile behavior
* Severe weight gain or loss
* Inappropriate sexual behavior
* Lack of clear childhood memories
* Chemical abuse
* Post traumatic stress disorder
* Difficulty trusting
* Fear of touching and intimacy
* Running away
Any time any of these effects manifest themselves, a qualified professional must make an evaluation to see if incest or sexual abuse has occurred, and recommend a course of treatment for the survivor. These effects can be symptoms of other problems, but all are generally severe enough that an evaluation by a professional should be done. Yes.
Can I recover from incest?
It’s understandable that your pain feels so enormous that you doubt that you will ever feel better. But there are millions of people in the world who would tell you that with a proper, qualified therapist, you can be healed after the trauma of incest. You can laugh again, dance again, and feel joy again.
Healing is possible after the trauma of incest. But first let’s talk about what does not work.
- Putting on a brave face does not work.
- Waiting for the pain to go away does not work.
- Retreating into alcohol or illegal drugs does not work.
- Trying to fix the pain of incest by yourself does not work.
Going to a qualified therapist who is experienced in incest cases is the only way to heal. Marriage counselors don’t help. Going to members of the clergy doesn’t help. You will need to find a highly trained doctor who specializes in incest treatment and recovery.
If you don’t like your therapist, remember that therapy didn’t fail — one therapist failed. Find another and try again. And again. Never never never quit.
If you’re deeply spiritual or religious, here’s another thing you need to know. Turning to religion to recover from incest instead of pursuing therapy does not work. However, many people use religion as a source of strength and hope to augment and enhance their therapy, and that does work. Do not consider therapy to be a rejection of religion. Therapy works to heal, and healing is a sacred act that is celebrated by every major religion. Nowadays, therapists know how to heal survivors of incest. That knowledge is a gift from God, and pursuing therapy is a celebration of God’s gift.
Will recovery happen quickly? I’m sorry, but no. The recovery from the effects of incest will take a significant investment of time and a lot of hard work. Even though recovery from incest is a long road, you will find comfort in the knowledge that you are moving forward, that you are working, and that you are making progress. What you are working for is peace of mind. Nothing is better. Nothing is worth more. And if you don’t have that, nothing else really matters.
You deserve to have peace of mind. You do not deserve to hurt like you do. You deserve to feel joy and contentment and peace. Never stop fighting for yourself. You will recover from incest.
Survivors of incest who are trying to heal themselves without outside help often focus on the subject of forgiveness. If they can forgive their abuser, they reason, then they will be healed.
This never works.
Helping your Partner
Your partner has suffered horrors that you can’t even imagine. The emotional scars caused by the trauma of incest can be enormous, and will be manifested in behaviors you don’t understand. The behaviors will be triggered by innocent objects or comments, and you will not understand how such an innocent thing can trigger such strong reactions. Two very common manifestations of emotional scars from incest are eating disorders and self-mutilation, but there are many others.
You won’t understand these reactions, or how they are related to the incest. You won’t understand why the hurt is so enormous. You won’t understand why something that happened so long ago can still affect your partner so severely.
Here’s the thing: you don’t have to understand. The only thing you need to know is that your partner is in pain — horrible pain. The pain is not going away, it’s actually getting worse, and it’s frightening. You don’t know what to do, and the specter of incest and the abuse is endangering your relationship.
Your job is to help your partner get help to recover from incest.
It’s understandable that your partner’s pain seems so enormous that you doubt anyone can help. But there are millions of people in the world who would tell you that with a proper, qualified therapist, your partner can be healed from the effects of incest. Your partner can laugh again, dance again, and feel joy again.
You need to know that healing after incest is possible. You need to know that you will need to give more patience and understanding and love and compassion than you thought was humanly possible. But it is possible, and you have to provide this support. There are many resources to help guide you through the process.
You also need to know what does not work.
- Nagging does not work.
- Shaming does not work.
- Lecturing does not work.
- Telling your partner to “just try harder” does not work.
- Implying that it is a question of strength of character — you have it, and your partner doesn’t — does not work, and is horribly injurious and wrong.
Incest is one of the worst types of sexual abuse and only a psychiatric doctor can guide your partner to health.
A qualified therapist, experienced in incest cases, is the only thing that works. A visit to a marriage counselors doesn’t work. Going to see members of the clergy doesn’t work. You will need a highly trained specialist.
Recovery will take a long time; that’s a fact of life. If your partner doesn’t like their therapist, remember that therapy didn’t fail — one therapist failed. Find another and try again. And again. Never never never quit.
If you’re deeply spiritual or religious, here’s another thing you need to know. Turning to religion instead of pursuing therapy does not work. However, many people use religion as a source of strength and hope to augment and enhance their therapy, and that does work. Do not consider therapy to be a rejection of religion. Therapy works to heal, and healing is a sacred act that is celebrated by every major religion. Nowadays, therapists know how to heal survivors of incest. That knowledge is a gift from God, and pursuing therapy is a celebration of God’s gift.
The last thing you need to know is that this is your ultimate test. You are Winston Churchill during the Battle of Britain. You are Martin Luther King giving his speech in Washington. You are Susan B. Anthony facing a rioting mob. How you handle this crisis will shape the rest of your life.
This is your time. You are strong enough. Your love is strong enough. You can do it!
In some ways, incest is like post-traumatic stress syndrome, a broken bone, or a bacterial infection. These injuries are extremely curable, but only if you get professional help.
For anyone healing from incest, forgiving your abuser is the very, very last step. Many survivors have been abused so badly that they never forgive their abuser, and yet feel healed from the effects of incest. And this is perfectly fine.
If you are in the beginning or middle stages of healing from incest or child sexual abuse, don’t even think about or worry about forgiveness. Make sure you are working with a qualified professional, and concentrate your energies on yourself. Focus on healing yourself. At the very end of your healing journey, you can work with your therapist on the subject of forgiving your abuser, and you can decide at that time if it is something you choose to do.
Until then, don’t waste your time or energy on it.
The term “incest” encompasses sexual behavior with a variety of patterns, variations, causes, types, relationships, and effects. Although incest is illegal in all states in the United States, the laws vary from state to state regarding the behavior and degree of relatedness considered incestuous. In general, incest laws prohibit marriage, cohabitation, and sexual relations (usuallydefined as sexual intercourse) between individuals who are closely related byblood, marriage, or adoption.
Most social scientists believe that the primary purpose of the prohibition, often called the incest taboo, is to protect the nuclear family from the consequences of sexual rivalry and jealousy. The taboo is linked with the rule ofexogamy (marriage outside of one’s kinship group, usually for the purpose ofsocial alliance between groups). Besides reinforcing the incest prohibition,this rule prevents families from becoming culturally ingrown through continuous endogamy (marriage within a kinship group). Highly inbred populations havediminished reproductive capacity and have higher risks for hereditary disorders. Marriage to relatives outside the nuclear family is common in a number of cultures, however, and it is no longer widely believed that the incest taboo serves principally to guard against inbreeding as a negative biological result of incest.
Another theory, emphasizing socialization, argues that the incest taboo is animportant method of regulating the erotic impulse in children, preparing them to function with mature restraint in adult society. The psychoanalytic explanation of Sigmund Freud speculated that the horror of incest resulted from the combination of ambivalent emotions toward one’s immediate family, and repressed forbidden desires to commit sexual acts with family members.
Incest can range from a one-time occurrence to hundreds of contacts spanningdecades. It may involve occasional contact or may be compulsive/addictive innature and occur several times a day. The average duration of activity is approximately four years. In addition, most perpetrators are considerably olderthan their victims, are predominately male, and who on the average abuse at more serious and traumatic levels than do female perpetrators. While incest has commonly been thought to occur more often in families of lower socioeconomic class, in ethnic minorities, and in rural families, those beliefs have notbeen adequately substantiated.
Indications are that incestuous abuse usually does not commonly involve physical force or violence. Verbal or implied threats are more often used by the perpetrator to ensure the child’s silence and compliance. The child maybe threatened with family breakup, dissolution of the special relationship with the perpetrator, shame, or blame. The perpetrator may also threaten to commit suicide, harm the victim or other family members, family pets, or valuedpossessions if the incest is revealed or terminated.
Rape and Incest
It is clear from research findings that rape and incest share many similarities but also have some differences as well. The differences are found in threeareas: the duration and progression of sexual activity over time; coercion;and consent. Most incest involves multiple acts of sexual violation over time, ranging from several months to many years. The usual pattern is for the sexual activity to escalate. In addition, most incestuous relationships begin not as the result of physical force and violence but rather under the guise ofaffection or education. Frequently, the perpetrator offers the victim the opportunity to be involved in a special relationship with a known and valued adult. Usually the coercion is subtle, especially at first. However, it may intensify over the course of the incestuous relationship. Threats, lies, and manipulation are often used to ensure secrecy and continued involvement.
While neither women who are raped nor incest victims willingly give consent,the child’s experience differs because of the adult’s authority and importance in his or her life. The perpetrator gains access to the child by betrayingthe child’s special trust and by exploiting the child’s powerlessness. Thus,incest can be viewed as a form of rape (sexual penetration through the use offorce with lack of consent on the part of the victim) within the family, with the added potential for psychological damage to the victim due to the relationship between the child and the adult.
Incidence and Prevalence of Incest
Until the late 1970s and early 1980s, incest was believed to be exceedingly rare. It has proven difficult to accurately estimate the incidence (the numberof incestuous cases that have occurred over a period of time) and prevalence(the number of people who have been victims during their lives) of incestuous abuse. There are many reasons why it is difficult to obtain accurate estimates. These include difficulties in defining incest (some definitions list only sexual intercourse as incestuous abuse, while others include other types ofsexual contact). In addition, many victims of incest may fail to report theact a tendency that incest shares with rape. However, various studies place the percentage of incest victims in the general population of America at about10 to 20 million. Among the reported victims of incest, girls outnumber boysby approximately ten to one; however the number of boys abused may be underreported.
Incest most commonly begins when a child is between the ages of eight and twelve. Emerging data indicate that the earlier the victim was abused, the morerepressed the memory. Thus younger victims are more prone to have protectively “forgotten” their earlier experiences and so are unable to report them.
Categories of Incest
The major categories of incest include incest between blood relatives (consanguinal incest); relatives by adoption or marriage (affinal incest), and quasi-relatives (for example, a live-in partner or foster parent).
Sexual relations between the most closely related blood relatives, that is, within the nuclear family (between parent and child and between siblings), are the most forbidden because they have the most serious potential for harm and destruction. Parent-child incest, which in most cases means father- or stepfather-daughter involvement, is consistently reported as the most damaging type of incest, followed by sibling incest perpetrated by brothers. Many aspectsof the nuclear family are potentially related to the greater traumatic impact: the degree of relatedness and contact between victim and perpetrator and therefore the degree of betrayal involved, along with the greater opportunityfor contact and entrapment and the related opportunity for incest of longer duration, greater frequency, and greater severity.
The taboo applies less strictly to individuals who are affinally related andvaries according to the roles they occupy with one another. Stepparent-stepchild incest is the most forbidden, followed by stepsibling contact, and then contact between other members of the extended family. The societal taboo is even weaker when individuals are unrelated but occupy family roles and performfamily functions (quasi-relatives), as in the case of a live-in partner who takes on the roles of husband and father.
Although state laws prohibit sexual intercourse and marriage between individuals who are related by blood, there is no uniformity concerning the degree ofrelatedness prohibited. Most of these laws also prohibit sexual contact between affinal relatives. Quasi-relatives, however, are not covered by the incest laws because no blood or legal relationship exists between the involved individuals; rather sexual contact between them is prohibited by the state statutes covering rape, sexual assault, child abuse, domestic abuse, or criminal sexual conduct. Sexual contact between quasi-relatives, however, is consideredincest even though it is not so defined legally, since this contact has incestuous connotations and serious psychological repercussions for the child.
Cross-generational incest involves sexual contact with a considerably older partner who is a step-parent, in-law, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or second cousin. It may also involve a quasi-relative who plays a parental or guardian role in the child’s life and from whom the child should be able to expect sexualdistance.
Peer incest involves sexual contact between individuals who are close in age. Most sibling (including step- and half-sibling) and cousin incest falls withing this category, although when a large age difference exists between participants, cross-generational incest may be the more appropriate category.
While there is clear that sexual curiosity, observation, and exploration between agemates is normal in humans, it moves beyond this point when it is nonmutual or forced. When incest occurs between individuals who are close in age, it has been assumed to have less potential for damage than when a large age discrepancy exists. However the data suggest that some peer incest, particularly involving older brothers/cousins and younger sisters/cousins, has more serious consequences than has been previously estimated. Many adolescents, for example, abuse younger children as a traumatic reenactment of their own abuseor because they have had inappropriate sexual stimulation or modeling in their own families.
Opposite-sex and Same-sex Incest
Research suggests that same-sex incest, whether it involves males or females(although same-sex incest seems to involve boys more than girls), is vastly underreported and underinvestigated because its occurrence involves breaking two taboos incest and homosexuality. However, same-sex incest should not be always assumed to indicate homo on the part of the perpetrator. The incest maybe a reenactment of the perpetrator’s own childhood sexual abuse, as well asa symbolic identification with the victim. It is thus seen as a traumatic stress response and egocentric choice rather than a homosexual one. It is, of course, confusing and traumatizing for the victim and often causes a questioning of his or her own sexual orientation.
The term “multiple incest” has been applied to those situations in which a victim is abused by more than one perpetrator either concurrently or sequentially, as well as to situations in which a perpetrator abuses more than one victim. Many incest survivors have experienced multiple incest by members of thenuclear or extended family, and many perpetrators abuse more than one child. Some perpetrators remain strictly within the family, while others involve other children as well. Some abusers involve more than one child; others engage children sequentially, usually beginning with the oldest, most vulnerable, or most favored child (usually the oldest daughter) and then move on to others.
Occasionally, several incestuous pairings within families occur both the peerand cross-generational levels. Once the incest barrier is broken, there seems little to inhibit additional incestuous activity. Incest becomes the “normal” way for family members to interact, even though the abuse is commonly kepthidden.
After the initial abuse has taken place, a victim of multiple incestuous perpetrators often views the subsequent victimization as proof that something about him or her has caused the abuse. Blame is added to already-existing shame.
Incest and the Family
The typical family in which incest occurs has been found to have rigid boundaries with regard to outsiders, that is, to be socially, psychologically, andphysically isolated. Family members are mutually dependent on one another toget their needs met. Appropriate boundaries are lacking between individual family members and between generations. Children are often involved in role reversal with the parents, for example, the child may become the caretaker for one or both parents or for the entire family.
Emotional and physical deprivation predominates in the family. Often family members do not touch each other with love or affection. Affection is expressedsexually. Consequently, the children may be starved for love and affection,with the contact surrounding the abuse their only source of nurturance.
There appear to be two main family types in which incest occurs most regularly: the dysfunctional family and the superficially “normal”family. The dysfunctional family is characterized by problems spanning generations, relatively low socioeconomic standing, marginal functioning of individual family members,and the family as a whole (for example, drug or alcohol abuse). In this family, it is not unusual for several family members to be sexually involved withone another, for pregnancies to result, and for the resulting children to beraised in the family.
Children in dysfunctional families are basically left to raise themselves, and without adult supervision, are vulnerable to all forms of abuse inside andoutside of the family. While some become caretakers, others become rebels.
The superficially normal family appears to be solid and well-functioning. Theparents have usually been in a long-term marriage. They are socially and financially stable, and seem well-respected by the community. Typically the family follows the traditional model of the husband as”head of the household” and the wife as subordinate.
The family, however, is not as stable internally as it appears to be on the surface. The parents often lack the emotional capacity to adequately nuture one another, much less their children. As a result, both are emotionally needyand impoverished, perhaps due to the abusive upbringing of one or both parents. Over time the parents become estranged from one another, not only emotionally but also sexually. Sometimes they develop work schedules that allow themto avoid interacting with one another on much more than a superficial level.Alcoholism or other problems are often evident and contribute to the barren emotional family climate. The mother turns to her daughter for help in runningthe household, and the father turns to his daughter for emotional and sexualsustenance. Children, then, often turn to one another to meet their own emotional or other needs, and sometimes the relationship becomes sexual. When andif incest in this family is discovered by an outsider, it is denied or treated as insignificant.
The dysfunction and its associated denial contribute to an unstable atmosphere supported by inconsistent responses on the part of the parents. What bringspraise and affection one day results in abuse and rejection on another. Children cope with this inconsistency by learning to be mistrustful and by responding in ways that help them avoid further conflict, criticism, or punishment.In extreme cases, children begin to split off these different experiences ofreality, a process that ultimately develops a fragmented sense of self. Without outside intervention to break the cycle, the abuse becomes self-perpetuating. It distorts the individual personality of family members and the relationships among them.
The Effects of Incest
Incest is a form of chronic traumatic stress that can lead to a host of initial and long-term effects. Like child sexual abuse in general, it poses a serious mental health risk for many victims. The chronic nature of the abuse, thenature of the family, including its dynamics and defenses, the child’s dependence on and entrapment in the family, and his or her loyalty to that family,necessitate using strong defenses to cope. Denial and dissociation (splitting off of normal thought processes from consciousness) allow the victim to discount, minimize, or otherwise suppress memories of abuse. These defenses often persist into adulthood. As a result, survivors may appear asymptomatic andnot suffering from long-term effects of the abuse, when in reality they are emotionally constricted due to the trauma.
Most former incest victims had little opportunity either in childhood or later to get effective assistance to end the abuse or to treat its effects. Theseuntreated effects (immediate or long-term) become chronic or delayed and give rise to additional symptoms. These symptoms, in turn, create new problems that usually prompt the adult survivor to seek treatment. Some of the most common of these problems include depression, eating disorders, substance abuse,anxiety, or dissociative disorders such as multiple personality disorder. Survivors might also seek treatment for domestic abuse or other types of sexualviolence.
Since incest usually occurs in childhood, it inevitably influences maturationand development. For many survivors, the incest experience, along with its aftermath and coping mechanisms, has greatly influenced and become integratedinto the personality. Some survivors develop the symptoms of specific personality disorders, most commonly those associated with hysteric, borderline (difficulty maintaining a stable mood and self-image), narcissistic, avoidant, ordependent personalities.
Goals of Treatment
Long-term treatment is often required because of the frequency and severity of the abuse, its impact on the developmental process, and the character of the victim. Time is also needed to work with strong defenses and establish a therapeutic alliance of trust. Those survivors who have suffered the most serious repercussions and who present the most serious symptoms, including multiple personality, other dissociative states, substance dependencies or addictions of any type, and suicidal and self-destructive behavior, the therapist canassume that the therapy is going to take years. Optimally, the therapist-survivor relationship develops slowly, the interventions and interpretations paced according to both the survivor’s ability to work with them and the degree of affect and defense they generate.
Often the survivor becomes discouraged or enraged by the need for such lengthy treatment, its slow pace, and the disequilibrium inherent in recovering from the effects of incest. Some survivors even view therapy as prolonging the abuse. It is important for the therapist to support the outrage, resentment, and discouragement, however. Explanations of the course of therapy and the reasons for its likely duration can put the process in perspective and offer thesurvivor support and reassurance.
Regardless of what type of treatment approach is chosen, common goals include:
- acknowledgement and acceptance of the occurrence of the incest
- recounting the incest
- breakdown of feelings of isolation and stigma
- recognition, labeling, and expression of feelings
- resolution of responsibility and survival issues
- cognitive restructuring of distorted beliefs and stress responses
- self-determination and behavioral change
- education and skill-building
The basic goal of therapy is to help the survivor, in a safe and controlled way, recall the abuse and the original feelings associated with it and to restore the accurate meanings attached to the abuse. The turning point for the patient occurs when his or her rage is experienced not in a vacuum but as a response to cruelty. The patient needs to understand that nothing will erase thepast. The work of therapy is, rather, to reclaim that traumatic past as partof his or her history and identity. With this kind of understanding, the abused patient will be able to grieve and to let go of both the trauma and the distortions in memory and mood that were once necessary for survival.
Incest occurs through persuasion and pressure more often than by physical violence. It becomes a closely held secret, continuing for years. The victims feel shame, anger, and guilt and usually believe they must handle the situation alone. Incest victims who have to depend on their abusers for food and shelter tell themselves it won’t happen again, or worry about sending their father, mother, sister, stepfather, uncle or brother to jail.
TIPS TO HELP WITH FLASHBACKS
- Blink hard. Blink again. Do it once more as hard as you can.
- Change your body position.
- Breathe slowly and deeply.
- Go to a safe place.
- Say your name out loud.
- Drink a glass of ice water.
- Tell someone what you need.
- Move vigorously to release energy.
- Name people or objects in the room.
- Hold something that is comforting.
- Listen to a tape of something soothing.
- Make tea. Drink it.
- Call a friend.
- Eat a snack.
- Jump up and down waving your arms.
- Lie down on the floor; feel your body connecting with it. Keep your eyes open. How does it feel? Describe it out loud to yourself.
- Make eye contact with your pet. Now hold it.
- Clap your hands.
- Breathe deeply. Keep breathing. Pay attention to your every breath.
- Hold a stuffed animal, pillow, or your favorite blanket.
- Alternatively tense and relax some muscles.
- Try and “blink” with your whole body, not just your eyelids.
- Move your eyes from object to object, stopping to focus on each one.
- Wash your face.
- Go outside for sunshine or fresh air.
- Repeat to yourself: “I am safe. This is (month, day, and year). I am ___ years old. I am a big person. I can protect myself.”
If you are so caught up in the flashback that you have no sense that you have already lived through the event, you may not be able to do any of the things suggested above. Here are some techniques that your therapist, your SO, or a friend can use to help you re-connect to the present. (They are written for the person not having the flashback.)
- Introduce yourself, explain it’s a flashback, explain where the person is. Give reassurances of safety — ‘that’s old stuff’ — ‘you are not alone now and are much bigger and stronger now’
- Use a magical eraser on the remembering.
- Using an imaginary plastic spray bottle of water, spray the remembering until it dissolved away.
- Put a TV screen around the remembering and then turn down the sound, turn down the brightness, switch channels.
- Look at the remembering with binoculars turned around and adjust the picture to make it smaller.
- Project the remembering on a wall/dry erase board, then ‘erase’ it with back-and-forth movements of your finger.
- Suggest that the person remember or imagine a very safe place, go there, and bring all senses to bear in the imagining (seeing, hearing, smelling, touch, etc.)
- Have the person draw the remembering on paper. Then erase, scribble over the drawing, flush it down the toilet, rip it up, etc.
With crisis telephone calls, when the person seems barely coherent, do most of the talking in your calmest, strongest, most reassuring voice. Say things like ‘You can hear my voice, you have a firm grip on the telephone receiver, you are safe, you can have control over your breathing.’ Then ask them to tell you what they see around them or to just name ‘safe’ objects in the room.
Tips from Readers
- hold ice in your hand
- take off shoes, put feet on the floor
- wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it a few times
- concentrate on slower, longer breaths
- alternate nostril breathing techniques
- frequent intake of drinks of water
- clean house
A man climbs up the tree of his life, his own family tree, digging into his memories in order to understand the cause of his difficulties and weariness of life. The difficulties for a male survivor of sexual abuse to share intimacy with his girlfriend.
THE INCEST SURVIVORS’ AFTEREFFECTS CHECKLIST
INCEST is any use of a minor child to meet the sexual or sexual/emotional needs of one or more older or more powerful persons in ongoing emotional relationship(s) with that child (parent, step- or grandparent, sibling, babysitter, mother’s boyfriend, teacher, rabbi, priest, family doctor, etc.). Although incest has traditionally been defined as sex and/or marriage between close relatives, above all, it is child abuse an assault on the child’s sexual boundaries by the very person(s) entrusted with her care. It is a violation of a dependency bond, not of a blood relationship. And it does not require touch. A child can be violated through inappropriate photographs, the way she is talked to or by the way she is looked at.
Incest is such a traumatic experience that its victims may forget that it even occurred. But its scars live on, confusing in their seeming meaninglessness. Problems with sex, trust, touch, addictions, paralyzing depression, memory, shame and guilt can feel crazy and out of control, especially when the cause is unknown. This Checklist describes the consequences of incest trauma. It offers a profile of the post-incest experience in women (although applies to men as well), or Post-Incest Syndrome.
It can be used as a guide to help survivors understand that there are legitimate reasons for their unrelenting difficultiesthat, in fact, these problems are actually valiant attempts to cope with an impossible situation, and to meet healthy underlying needs.
Many of the items on this list can also apply to survivors of childhood abuses such as battering, or adult children of families where there is a history of alcoholism. Incest is especially common in alcoholic families, although not all alcohol-involved abuse is attributable to the disease of alcoholism. Incest perpetrators often apply the same defenses to their behavior as those used by alcoholics: denial, minimizing, and projection of blame. Additionally, perpetrators, just like victims, may dissociate the abuse.
Still, incest is always the responsibility of the abuser. Although incest perpetrators are often described as sick, for the most part, this behavior is a choiceintentional, planned, and purposefully hidden.
Have you been struggling with problems that nothing seemed to help, for which even therapy could not find a cause? If the majority of the items of this list apply to you, you might want to consider whether you are a survivor of incest. Of course, you should never allow a checklist, or another person, to determine whether you have been abused. Only you can determine this, and the quest for such answers is long and painful. Even then, remembering is not the end of the process of recovery, but the beginning. If you are a survivor, above all, know this: you are not to blame. And healing is possible; with help, you can break free
from the self-blame, isolation, and the entrapment of Post-Incest Syndrome.
This Checklist is based on an original list by New York Women Against Rape, as well as extensive observation of and communication with survivors. To all who contributed: your generous sharing of your experiences and pain is a gift to all survivors.
1. Fear of being alone in the dark, of sleeping alone; nightmares (especially of rape, pursuit, threat, entrapment, blood); night terrors
2. Swallowing and gagging sensitivity; repugnance to water on face when bathing or swimming (suffocation feelings)
3. Poor or distorted body image; alienation from, not at home in, failure to heed signals or take care of body; manipulating body size to avoid sexual attention; compulsive cleanliness, incl. bathing in scalding water; or, total inattention to personal appearance or hygiene
4. Somatization, stress-related diseases: gastrointestinal problems, GYN disorders (including spontaneous vaginal infections); headaches; arthritis/joint pain; fibromyalgia. Also internal scarring. Aversion to doctors (esp. gynecologists, dentists) 5. Wearing a lot of clothing, even in summer; baggy clothes; failure to remove clothing even when appropriate to do so (while swimming, bathing, sleeping); extreme requirement for privacy when using bathroom
6. Addictions, eating disorders, drug/alcohol overuse/abuse/or total abstinence; compulsive behaviors (including busyness)
7. Self-injury (cutting, burning, etc.) (physical pain is manageable) (this is an addictive pattern); self-destructiveness
8. Phobias, panic, anxiety
9. Need to be invisible, perfect, or perfectly bad
10. Suicidal thoughts, attempts, obsession (including passive suicide)
11. Depression (sometimes paralyzing); seemingly baseless crying; sadness
12. Anger issues: inability to recognize, own or express anger; rage; fear of rage (actual or imagined); constant anger; misdirected anger, intense hostility toward entire gender or ethnic group (race) of the perpetrator
13. PTSD symptoms, including shock or shutdown in crisis (stressful situation always = crisis); psychic numbing. Hysterical symptoms: physical pain, paralysis, numbness associated with particular memory, emotion (e.g. anger) or situation (e.g. sex). See also flashbacks in item 26.
14. Rigid control of thought process; humorlessness or extreme solemnity
15. Childhood hiding, hanging on, cowering in corners (security-seeking behaviors); adult nervousness over being watched or surprised; feeling watched; startle response; hypervigilance
16. Inability to trust (trust is not safe); absolute trust that turns to rage when disappointed; trusting indiscriminately
17. High risk taking (daring the fates); inability to take risks
18. Control, power, territoriality issues; fear of losing control; obsessive/compulsive behaviors (attempts to control things that don’t matter, just to control something!); power/sex confusion (see also #27)
19. Guilt/ shame/ low self-esteem/ feeling worthless/ high appreciation of small favors by others
20. Pattern of being a victim (victimizing oneself after being victimized by others), especially sexually; no sense of own power or right to set limits or say no; pattern of relationships with much older or more powerful persons (onset in adolescence); OR exaggerated sense of entitlement; revictimization by others (adult sexual violence, including sexual exploitation by bosses and helping professionals)
21. Must produce to be loved; instinctively knowing, doing what the others need or want; relationships = big tradeoffs
22. Disturbances in attachment; abandonment issues; desire for relationships with no separateness; avoidance/fear of intimacy
23. Dissociation: blocking out some period of early years (esp. 112), specific person, place, event; creating fantasy worlds, identities (incl. women imagining self to be male, = not a victim); Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) (was MPD)
24. Feeling of carrying an awful secret urge to tell/ fear of its being revealed; certainty that no-one would listen. Being generally secretive. Feeling marked (the scarlet letter)
25. Feeling crazy; feeling different; feeling oneself to be unreal and everyone else to be real, or vice versa; cognitive problems
26. Denial (no awareness); repression of memories; pretending; minimizing (it wasn’t that bad); strong, deep, inappropriate negative reactions to a person, place or event; flashbacks, which may occur as dreams, or sensory flashes (a brief image or feeling) with no meaning; or memories of surrounding details but not event or identity of abuser. Memory often begins with least threatening event or abuser. Details of experience may never be fully or accurately known, but much recovery is possible without full recall. Your inner guide will release memories at the pace you can handle (see also #13, #23)
27. Sexual issues: sex feels dirty; aversion to being touched; strong aversion to (or need for) particular sex acts; feeling betrayed by one’s body; trouble integrating sexuality and emotionality; confusion or overlapping of affection/ sex/ dominance/ aggression/ violence; having to pursue power in sexual arena which is actually sexual acting out (self-abuse, manipulation [esp. women]; abuse of others [esp. men]); compulsively seductive, or compulsively asexual; must be sexual aggressor, or cannot be; impersonal, promiscuous sex with strangers concurrent with inability to have sex in intimate relationship (conflict between sex and caring); prostitute, stripper, sex symbol (Marilyn Monroe), porn actress; sexual
acting out to meet anger or revenge needs; sexual addiction; avoidance; shutdown; crying after orgasm, impotence or difficulty maintaining an erection; pursuit feels like violation; sexualizing of all meaningful relationships; erotic response to abuse or anger, sexual fantasies of dominance/ real rape (results in guilt and confusion); teenage pregnancy. Note: Homosexuality is not an aftereffect!
28. Pattern of ambivalent or intensely conflictual relationships (abuse is familiar; also, in true intimacy, issues are more likely to surface; in problem relationships, focus can be shifted from real issue of incest). Note: Partner of survivor often suffers consequences of Post-Incest Syndrome also (especially sex and relationship issues)
29. Avoidance of mirrors (connected with invisibility, shame/self-esteem issues; distorted perceptions of face or body, DID)
30. Desire to change ones name (to dis-associate from the perpetrator or take control through self-labeling)
31. Limited tolerance for happiness; active withdrawal from/ reluctance to trust happiness (ice = thin)
32. Aversion to noise-making (including during sex, crying, laughing, or other body functions); verbal hypervigilance (careful monitoring of one’s words); quiet-voiced, especially when needing to be heard
33. Stealing (adults); fire-starting (children)
34. Food sensitivities/avoidance based on texture (mayonnaise) or appearance (hot dogs), which remind the survivor of abuse, or smell/sound which remind survivor of perpetrator; aversion to meat, red foods
35. Compulsive honesty or compulsive dishonesty (lying)
36. Hypervigilance regarding child abuse, or inability to see child abuse, or avoidance of any awareness or mention of child abuse; tendency to develop relationships with incest perpetrators
37. Personality disorders, characteristics; Psychiatric illness (NOTE: Post-Incest Syndrome is often misdiagnosed as these)
Note to therapists and survivors: Some items on this list are strongly associated with childhood sexual abuse; however, over 25 items should be identified before incest is suspected. Proceed with caution!
Survivors and partners, be gentle with yourselvesand each other.
THE INCEST SURVIVORS’ AFTEREFFECTS CHECKLIST Copyright © 19852004 by E. Sue Blume, C.S.W., Diplomate in Clinical Social Work P.O. Box 7167 Garden City, N.Y. 11530 All rights reserved. No portion of this list may be copied or reprinted without the authors permission. Requests may be submitted to the author at the above address. Your thoughts and comments on this material are also welcome. Rev. 7/04 E. Sue Blumes book based on this list, Secret Survivors: Uncovering Incest, is available as a Ballantine paperback (at your bookstore, or through such Web sites as amazon.com). Lectures on this and other material can be scheduled with the author.
Dark Family Secrets
Abuse Handed Down
Five siblings who were all victims and then perpetrators of incest with each other, speak out in an effort to save one of their own.
“Growing up, we looked like the perfect Mormon family and attended church every Sunday, and no one thought that anything was amiss,” says Becky, 30. But something was terribly wrong. “Incest was handed down through our family starting with my older brother Chris, who molested me, Kenny and Katie, and then Kenny molesting Katie, and Katie molesting Matt.”
Chris, 33, explains: “I think that probably the best way to explain it is it’s kind of like a perverted or wrong or screwed up game of tag where one person is abused and then consequently they abuse the next person and then they abuse the next person and they abuse the next person until somebody actually catches it or stops it. And that’s essentially what happened in our family. When I was 5 or 6 years old, it started out by going over to this friend’s house and his teenage brother pulled my pants down and rubbed up against me. And that’s the same thing that I did to my brother, to my sister. In the beginning, it was pretty naïve. Later on, as a teenager, it was more of an attempt to obtain sexual gratification.”
Becky recalls, “Chris came into my room and was rubbing against me and actually ejaculated on the covers. And I remember being very angry at him. I told him that I knew what that was, I knew what he was doing and I told him to get out of my room. And that’s the only incident I remember. I’ve been told that we used to undress in front of each other, sometimes get on top of each other, but I don’t remember any of those incidents.”
Chris then moved on to Kenny when he was 7 or 8 years old. “We both totally took off all of our clothes, and laid down in bed together,” he says.
Kenny, 24, painfully recalls, “You know a few times it was a little more involved than that. I hate to say that on one occasion he did try and, you know, have me …” He pauses. “Oh God, this sucks!”
“What really made me stop was the one incident that occurred with Katie, realizing how small she was, only 4 years old, and I’m 16, 17,” explains Chris.
“Chris bribed me to take off my clothes, and lay on top of him,” says Katie, 21. “As I got a little older, Kenny abused me countless times. I think I was more than willing to go along with him because it had happened to me with Chris. There was always something sexual going on in my childhood. So it seemed normal. I didn’t feel like I was the only person in the world doing this. I started abusing Matt when I was about 10. I’d go take a shower and I’d purposefully leave the door unlocked, so he could come in.”
When Becky was 16, she asked for help at church. She received some counseling, but it went unreported. “I think that the church was remiss in not reporting it to my parents,” she says. “My parents, they really didn’t have any idea what was going on.”
“When the information about the abuse came out, I felt terrible guilt because being a mother was always the most important thing to me,” says their mother, Pat. “The family that we’d worked so hard trying to build was just being ripped completely away from us. Oh, I felt like the worst mother in the world. All of my kids, their lives were destroyed.”
“I am angry toward Chris,” says Katie, emotional. “I’ve been through so much in my life and I’ve worked so hard. I currently have to register as a sex offender for what I did to Matt. And it feels like Chris just got away with everything.”
“All of us were so angry about the incest, but Kenny was the most extensively abused,” says Becky, who’s desperate to help her brother. “The incest that Kenny went through has contributed heavily to his life today. Kenny is now addicted to meth and he lives most of his life on the streets.”
“I don’t want to be here,” says Kenny, homeless, wandering down a dirt path. “I don’t even know how to get out of here. This is where you’re at when you have nothing, you know?”
Katie cries. “It’s so sad that Kenny’s living on the streets and using drugs. He can’t possibly be happy living the way he is. I love Kenny very much. And it’s horrible for me to think that he’s not doing anything that he ever thought that he would do in his life.”
All of the siblings except for the youngest, Matt, 18, are ready to speak with Dr. Phil. “I think it’s a sign that everyone’s ready to really deal with this,” says Becky.
“Becky, why did you write to me?” asks Dr. Phil.
“I wrote to you because about four months ago, Kenny came to me asking for help, and I spent weeks looking for resources in our state. And there was just no treatment for him, there was no money available to help him. And I just did everything I could think of,” she says.
Although Kenny was reluctant to share his story on national television, he knows he needs help. “I need help getting out of the situation I’m in, help getting off the streets, getting off the drugs,” he says.
“So, as hard as it is and as stuck as you feel, you’ve still got some glimmer that there’s some way out of this to live a more productive and healthy life?”
“I don’t think I’d be alive today if I didn’t have any hope,” he say
“I want to see him succeed in life,” says Katie. “You know, I hate to think that he’s living on the streets. I’m willing to do anything to help him.” As for her, “Yeah, I feel that a few of us in the family still need some help recovering from this. I feel that I, myself, could use some therapy, some sort of help. I have trouble dealing with some of it.”
“Chris, how do you feel about this?” Dr. Phil asks.
I feel a tremendous amount of guilt, that’s the reason I’m here today,” says Chris. “It’s because I’m sorry for what I did. And we’ve gotten together as a family, and this is something that we never discuss. We talk about everything else, but we don’t talk about this because of the guilt I think all of us feel. I’ve wanted to have the opportunity to tell Kenny and Katie and Becky that I’m sorry for what I did.”
“Are you at a point now where you feel like you understand the gravity of the choices that you made, some of them when you were very young yourself and then some of them when you were old enough to know better?” Dr. Phil asks.
“Exactly. Yes, I do,” says Chris.
Sibling Sexual Abuse – A Parents Guide
Why this booklet?
This booklet is written for parents who know or suspect there is sibling abuse in their family and want to do something about it. It’s also written for parents who want to understand and prevent sibling sexual abuse in their family. Many parents are afraid to believe that sexual abuse could be possible in their family, and this booklet is meant to support parents in facing that possibility in an informed and realistic way.
Sibling sexual abuse, like all forms of sexual abuse, is an abuse of power. If a more powerful sibling, who may be older or stronger, bribes or threatens a weaker sibling into sexual activity, that is called sexual abuse. The abuser usually wins the trust of the victim first, and then violates that trust in order to commit the abuse. The abuser may use force, the threat of force, a bribe, the offer of special attention, or a gift to make the victim keep the abuse secret.
In sibling sexual abuse, the victim and the abuser are siblings. This may include such situations as foster or step-siblings. Also, as in other forms of sexual abuse, sibling sexual abuse doesn’t necessarily involve sexual touching. The abuser may force two or more other children to engage in sexual activity with one another. The abuser may force the siblings to watch sexual activity or pornographic videotapes. The abuser may also abuse them by repeatedly watching them dress, shower or use the toilet when they don’t want to be watched.
Trust is essential in families, but a sibling who has been given a lot of responsibility and power may abuse that trust. Sibling sexual abuse often takes place when parents fail to pay attention to the trust that they have placed in one of their children.
What are the effects of sibling sexual abuse?
Sibling sexual abuse is often very harmful for the following reasons:
Because the siblings live together, the victim may feel pressured and trapped by the abuser over a long period of time. This pressure usually includes bribes, sexual stimulation or physical force. For example, when you allow your oldest son to use physical punishment when baby-sitting, he may continue to use both physical abuse and threats to make sure his younger siblings keep the sexual abuse secret. This kind of pressure can break down the siblings’ self confidence.
The victim usually begins by trusting the abuser because they are siblings. When this trust is violated, the victim feels betrayed by that brother or sister, because someone they expect to love and care for them is hurting them. In addition, your younger children would naturally trust you to choose a safe, kind person to take care of them. When the person you choose abuses them, the victims feel betrayed again, this time by you. They may even believe that you think the abuse is all right.
The victims usually feel powerless to stop the abuse. They feel they can’t stop the offender, because he has threatened them. They may also feel powerless if you don’t believe them when they tell you they are being abused. This feeling of being powerless can stay with them and affect their adult relationships.
The victims may be made to feel responsible, bad or dirty. If you accuse your younger children of doing something to encourage the abuse, or if you call them ‘dirty’ or ‘slutty’, they’ll believe you, and feel ashamed as well. They may carry these feelings of shame into adulthood.
Sibling sexual abuse often causes more damage than abuse by a stranger. This is because children are dependent for years on their families and parents to keep them safe. Studies of convicted teenage sexual abuse offenders show that the sibling offenders commit more serious abuse over a longer period of time than other teenage offenders. This is because the victims (brothers or sisters) are more readily available, they are available for a longer period of time and the offenders are protected by family secrecy.
If you know or suspect that one of your children is being sexually abused by a sibling, do something. If you do nothing because you believe ‘they’ll grow out of it’, you allow the abuse and secrecy to continue.
Is sexual curiosity between siblings normal ?
Yes. A four-year old girl who touches her baby brother’s penis while her mother changes his diaper is showing normal curiosity. She may never have seen a penis before and may want to know what it feels like. A five year old boy who sees his sisters genitals for the first time may wonder where her penis is, whether she’s lost it and whether she’s going to grow one. He may have to look a few more times, and ask questions to understand that boys and girls are born with different genitals. As a parent you can use opportunities like these to give your children some information about sexuality that is suitable for their age.
However, a fourteen-year-old boy who wants to look at his five-year-old sister’s genitals is not showing normal curiosity. Normally, at his age, he would know what female genitals look like, so you would need to ask why he wants to do this. It could be that he’s wondering what it would feel like to touch female genitals or rub his penis against them. But to satisfy his curiosity in this way with his younger sister would be abusive.
Four- and five-year-olds who take down their pants to look at each other’s genitals are probably curious. But if they persist in doing it, or if they touch one another’s genitals frequently over time, you should look at it carefully. If it seems like more than curiosity, consider the possibility that one of them might have been sexually abused, and could be acting out the abuse.
It’s not a good idea to think that all play is harmless. It’s better to find out what’s behind the behaviour. Some questions you could ask yourself, or a professional, are:
Is this behaviour what you would expect from a child that age?
How long has the behaviour been going on?
Does it seem that one of the children involved is being forced to participate?
What is the purpose of the behaviour?
Here are some examples of behaviours in pre-school children:
Rubs genitals before falling asleep
Explores differences between boys and girls
Is interested in watching adults go to the bathroom
Plays ‘doctor’ with other children
Plays house. Plays ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’ roles
Behaviours that should cause concern-
Frequently rubs genitals instead of playing
Keeps asking questions about sex even after questions have
been reasonably answered
Persists in watching adults in the bathroom
Forces other children to play doctor
Pretends to have intercourse
If you aren’t sure about a behaviour, ask a professional; a doctor, a school nurse or counsellor, a social worker, a daycare supervisor or a child psychologist. There is also a booklet available that could be helpful: When Children Act Out Sexually: A Guide for Parents and Teachers available from Vancouver Family Services.
What is the relationship between sibling sexual abuse and other forms of abuse?
Sibling sexual abuse is a misuse of power and authority. Older children who sexually abuse their younger brothers and sisters frequently abuse them in other ways as well.
Persistent putting down, teasing, or belittling younger children about their size, gender or other personal characteristics is called emotional abuse. Scaring younger children in dark rooms, telling them that no one loves them, or that terrible things are going to happen to them are also examples of emotional abuse.
Much of the hitting, pinching and smothering of younger children is dismissed by bigger or older siblings who tell their parents, ‘We were only having fun’ or ‘We were just wrestling.’ However, this isn’t ‘just fun’ if it’s forced on the younger child; it is actually physical abuse.
If you are able to prevent your children from emotionally and physically abusing one another, you are less likely to have to deal with sexual abuse as well. Children who are allowed to abuse their siblings emotionally and physically may use their power in sexual ways as well.
Frank was charged under the Young Offenders Act with sexually abusing his younger sister Kathy. His probation officer enforced the court order that he attend counseling.
Frank, who was 15, told his counselor that his classmates were bigger and more sexually ‘successful’ than he was, and that one of them had dared him to have sex with a girl.
He said that he was afraid to even talk to a girl, let alone ask for a date. He admitted that he made his younger sister Kathy have sexual intercourse with him one evening when he was babysitting her.
Then Frank’s mother told the counselor that Frank’s father had forced sex on her in front of the children on a number of occasions. She disclosed that he often beat her if his meals weren’t ready on time. The counselor encouraged her to take Frank and Kathy to a transition house as a temporary measure, while she decided whether or not to stay with her husband.
There were several factors involved in Frank’s becoming a sibling sex offender. His father abused his mother physically, emotionally, and sexually; he abused Frank sexually and emotionally by having forceful, abusive sex with his mother in front of him; and he taught Frank by his example that it was acceptable for a male in authority to use force on the rest of the family. Not only that, his rules for the family were so strict that Frank handn’t learned to socialize with other teenagers. Feeling pressure from his peers, he tried to get information and experience by forcing himself on his younger sister.
There are many benefits to court-ordered counseling for sibling sex offenders. In Frank’s case he learned some social skills that helped him get along better with other teenagers, and he stopped copying his father’s abusive behavior. He also learned to take responsibility for his own behaviour and to control it. Other outcomes of the family crisis included his mother being able to leave an abusive relationship and Kathy starting to see a sexual abuse counselor. Following his conviction, Frank’s father was charged by the court to seek counseling and to change the way he treats women and children.
What Factors contribute to sibling sexual abuse?
An older sibling, usually a boy, is given too much responsibility
It’s an important part of family life for older children to learn to take responsibility for the care of younger children. It’s just as important for children to understand that this responsibility has limits. Responsibility allows older children to make decisions while taking care of younger children. But it doesn’t give them the right to boss them, put them down or threaten them. As parents, you must help them see that having responsibility doesn’t mean that they can do whatever they want. Frank’s story is a good example of an older brother who is given responsibility and misuses it.
Children who have witnessed or experienced sexual abuse
Children who have been sexually abused, either by family members or by adults or older children, sometimes react by coaxing, manipulating, or forcing younger children into the same kind of sexual behaviour. Brothers and sisters may become the victims of this ‘second hand’ abuse. Sexually intrusive children who act out their own abuse in this way are sometimes called ‘sexually reactive’. It’s important for you to know that children who are being sexually victimized may become sexually intrusive.
Access to pornography
Parents who leave pornographic videotapes or magazines where children can look at them run the risk of having their children imitate adult sexual behaviour.
If children are neglected, either physically or emotionally, they might engage in a full range of sexual activities. They might try sexual activities they have learned from other children, or they might experiment, on their own, to learn how to get sexual pleasure. Part of their behaviour might come from their need to give and receive comfort when they’re getting non from their parents.
Sexual activity between siblings which begins in this way might, at first, appear experimental and mutual. However, because o f the power differences between children, it rarely is. If the behaviour continues, it can become abusive, especially if one of the children wants to stop and the other doesn’t.
Lack of sex education
Children and teens who are not taught in an age-appropriate way about their physical and sexual development are more likely to engage in sexually intrusive behaviour.
Children who are not allowed to play with their peers, and teenagers who aren’t allowed to date, dance or socialize outside the home, are more likely to sexually abuse younger siblings, just as Frank did.
We often tend to see our own families as free from the trouble and tensions that other families have. When you do this, or try to explain away unusual behaviour or pretend it isn’t happening, this is called ‘denial’. In some situations, parents may wish to deny that abuse has taken place because it brings back memories of their own abuse. While denial doesn’t cause sibling sexual abuse, it may contribute to it’s continuation.
If you feel overwhelmed by your own problems — which can include emotional stress, illness and unemployment — you might not be able to detect the abuse even when it’s happening. At times like this your extended family or a social service agency might be able to relieve the stress, and give you a chance to look at what’s really happening in your family.
Why might it be difficult to recognize sibling sexual abuse in my family?
As a parent you might find it hard to see that one of your children is being sexually abused by a sibling. There are several reasons why parents of sibling sexual abuse victims have difficulty recognizing that it’s happening:
While the abuse is happening, the victim might be too young to know it’s abuse. The victim may believe that the abuse is something that happens in all families.
The abuse might be happening when the abuser is in a position of authority; for example, when an older sibling is the baby-sitter.
The abuser may be enforcing secrecy by threatening the victim with physical abuse if he or she tells.
Victims blame themselves, especially if they experience pleasure while they’re being abused, so they may not tell you about it.
Children may want to tell, but not know how to talk to you about what’s happening. Also, many children are afraid to upset their parents.
You may see some of the symptoms of sibling sexual abuse, but tell yourself it isn’t happening.
Parents who talk to their children about what has happened during the day and who ask about their feelings may be more likely to recognize sibling sexual abuse than parents who don’t.
If one of my children is abusing another child in my family, what should I do?
If your child is sexually abusing another child in the family, you report the abuse to your local child protection agency. While the way you do this may vary from province to province, the child protection agency in your province is responsible for helping both the victim and the offender. If your child is 12 or over, the child protection agency must report the abuse to the police. The police will decide whether or not to charge the child. If your child is under the age of 12, he or she cannot be charged with a sexual offense.
Admitting to yourself that sibling sexual abuse might be happening in your family can be hard. Admitting it to someone else can be even harder. The important thing is to get help. It is often helpful to get support from family and friends, but you might have to rely on others. Often these others are professionals. As a parent you may feel in a state of despair and confusion when you realize that one of your children, is abusing their sibling. You may feel disappointed and may feel that you have failed as a parent. Joining a parental support group may help you acknowledge and accept your feelings.
No matter what your child’s age, there are options as to what happens after you make the report to your child protection agency.
Many counseling centres that treat victims of sexual abuse also have programs for “sexually intrusive” children. These are children who have been acting in sexually aggressive ways towards other children, but are under the age of 12. In many cases these children are sexual abuse victims themselves. They need counseling for this as well as to change their behaviour towards other children.
12 and Over
There are several advantages to involving the police and the criminal justice system when the offender is a child over the age of 12. By using the court system:
We make a statement about how seriously our society views sexual abuse.
The victim knows he or she is believed.
The offender can get the help he needs.
The judge can make plans for the offender’s treatment.
Treatment can take many forms. One option could include placing a teenage sibling sex offender on probation with an order to have counseling while living at home. In this case the teenager will have a probation worker who will make sure the judge’s orders are followed.
If offenses are serious enough, the teenage abuser could be confined for a period of time in a detention centre. These centres are staffed by counselors and social workers who specialize in treating adolescent sex offenders. Treatment could include attending groups where the offender looks closely at his behaviour, and receiving individual counseling to help him understand it. The offender may also be taught basic social skills, such as how to make friends his own age, or how to ask for a date and learn appropriate sexual behaviour. Most important, compulsory counseling can help prevent the young offender from growing into an adult offender.
If the province where you live has a criminal injuries compensation program, the victim(s) of sibling sexual abuse might be eligible for free counseling. Your social worker or a victim assistance worker should be able to give you this information. After reporting the abuse, counseling for both the offender and the victim(s) can be an important step to healing in your family.
Jamie, 12, became sexually excited by watching a rock video. He wondered what it would be like to watch his eight-year-old sister, Carole-Anne, dance in the nude. Two or three times when his parents were out for the evening he talked her into taking off her clothes and dancing in front of the television set. Then he told her that one day she’d be a great dancer and a rock star. After that Carole-Anne started running in front of the television set all the time just to get his attention. When Jamie complained that Carole-Anne was a nuisance, Carole-Anne told her mother what Jamie had made her do. Her mother recognized that Jamie’s behaviour had been abusive.
HOW can I intervene to stop sibling sexual abuse?
When you discover abusive behaviour, remember that you should report it to the child protection agency.
You may want see a counselor or join a parent support group to get support for yourself.
You might try to find an opportunity and a place in which you and your children can talk quietly and calmly. This might be in a living room or at the kitchen table. It depends on where you’re used to having family conversations.
Ask the children involved how they feel about the behaviour. Ask the abuser how he/she thinks the victim might feel. For example: “How do you think Carole-Anne felt while she was doing that, Jamie?”
Describe the problem, then talk about it. For example: “Carole-Anne danced nude in front of the TV set because she believed she had to do everything you told her to do.”
Agree on what to do instead. In Carole-Anne and Jamie’s case, Jamie agreed not to force Carole-Anne to do things she didn’t want to do, and to respect Carole-Anne’s privacy. Carole-Anne agreed to report any future abuse of authority to her mother. Both children agreed to ask one of their parents to intervene if they couldn’t handle this conflict on their own.
Check regularly to see whether the agreements on both sides are being kept.
Use occasions like these to think and talk about some of the underlying issues. For example, how would you deal with Jamie’s interest in sexually stimulating rock videos? With his bossiness? How would you deal with Carole-Anne’s willingness to do whatever Jamie tells her to do? With her enjoyment of flattery? With her need for attention? These are problems that many families have to deal with on a daily basis. Your success in handling these problems is important in both preventing and stopping sexual abuse.
How can I best prevent sibling sexual abuse in my family?
The best way to prevent sibling sexual abuse is to pay attention to your children
Set aside a time each day when your children have a chance to tell you about what they’ve done or felt that day. This might be after school or before bed-time.
Ensure that children are well looked after by babysitters, whether the sitter is a family member or not. At breakfast you can ask your children specific questions about the previous evening; for example, did they watch their favourite TV program? did they play video games? did they cooperate with the sitter? was the sitter kind? would they like to have the same sitter again?
Be willing to talk about sexuality. Informal sex education could include watching educational videos and reading books with your children. Try to find library materials on sex education that are appropriate to the age of your child.
Encourage your children’s school to present sexual abuse prevention films and programs. Most of them do, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. The programs usually carry the message, “If someone is making you do something that doesn’t feel good, tell a trusted adult.”
Find out where your children are playing, and who they’re playing with. Be especially concerned if they’re playing with children who are focused on sexual games.
Teach your children that they own their bodies and everyone should respect that.
Monitor television violence. Movies and television programs that link sex and violence carry a dangerous message to children. Research shows these messages have a strong negative effect on children.
Encourage non-sexist attitudes and behaviour. For example: give power, responsibility and privileges equally to male and female siblings; assign household tasks fairly, and discourage sexist jokes and sexist put-downs.
Believe them. Children rarely invent stories of sexual abuse to get a brother or sister into trouble.
Will our family ever recover?
YES! Even if the abuse went on for a long time, your children can get over it. They’ll need love and understanding, and help in sorting out their thoughts and feelings. But in the end, they’ll feel just like normal kids again.
All families have rocky periods when one or more members have problems. What makes the difference is whether you work on the problems. The communication and support you develop while you do this may establish a new sense of trust in your family.
Help for Boys
This booklet answers these questions:
What is this booklet about? What is sexual abuse? Who is sexually abused? Who does the abusing? Was it my fault that I was sexually abused? What do we know about people who sexually abuse children?
Why is sexual abuse a bad thing? How do I get help? How will I feel after I tell?What will the sexual abuse counsellor do? How do boys usually feel about sexual abuse? What do sexually abused boys need most?
A foreword for parents
This is a booklet written for boys who have been sexually abused. Nine to twelve year olds should be able to read it easily, but younger children may need help. The vocabulary is fairly simple, but some of the ideas are not. Also, one of the main ideas expressed in this booklet is that children need the help of their parents to recover from the effects of sexual abuse. Unless, of course, the parents also happen to be the abusers. One way in which you can help is by reading and talking about this booklet with your son.
What is this booklet about?
If you are a boy and you have been sesuully abused, this is a special booklet for you.
It will help in three ways:
Explain what sexual abuse is. Help you understand your feelings.Tell you how to get help for mixed-up feelings. You may not want to read it all at one time, but read as much as you can. Then come back to read more later. If you find some of the words hard to understand, ask an adult or a friend to help you. If you can talk to your parents about your feelings, they may be the best people to help you with the reading. It may be a good plan to ask them to read this booklet anyway. They need to understand your feelings too.
As you go through this booklet you will read seven true stories.
Eric, Lucien, Pierre, Nathan, Justin, Bob and Carlos are all boys who went to a counsellor because they had been sexually abused. These are not their real names, but their stories and their feelings are very real, just as yours are. Maybe some of your feelings are like some of theirs.
Lots of abused children are afraid to tell because the abuser has made a threat. Boys like Eric who have been told to keep quiet often have bad dreams. For a long time Eric had bad dreams and couldn’t do his school work. Eric felt much better after he told his counsellor. He felt less afraid and stopped having the bad dreams. Then he was able to do his school work because he wasn‘t worried all the time.
What is sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse is a touch You didn’t ask for, but made you feel guilty anyway. It means that someone has touched you in a way that made you feel confused and bad about yourself. It’s a touch on a part of your body that is private, like your penis or your bum. But the person who touched you didn’t seem to care whether it was private or not. If another kid hits you or you get a spanking, you don’t feel good. But you understand what happened to you. Sexual abuse isn’t like that. You may feel bad and good at the same time, and that’s really hard to understand. Suppose your hockey coach says he’s going to show you how to make a slap shot. While he’s showing you, he puts his hand down your pants and feels your bum. Then you make your shot, and your coach says “Good shot, Jimmy!” You like to hear the praise, but you don’t like him touching you that way. Feeling bad and good at the same time is confusing.
If you have been sexually abused, it usually means you have been touched on a private part of your body. But not always. You may be asked to touch someone else on a private part of their body. Or you may be made to watch a video showing people touching one anotherr’s private parts. If watching the video makes you feel weird, it’s a kind of sexual abuse.
Lucien had a teenaged babysitter who made him get on top of her and put his penis into her vagina. Lucien felt a lot of shame and fear, and asked his mother to get another sitter. But he told his counselor that the sexual abuse was his idea, not the sitter’s and that he didn’t mind being abused. Lucien had heard other boys say that any boy who could have sex with a teenaged girl was lucky. So he pretended to his counselor that he didn’t have a problem. Lucien saw his counselor for a long time before he would admit to how ashamed he really felt.
When boys are sexually abused by older girls, they often have a hard time telling their real feelings.
Who is sexually abused?
Every year thousands of boys and girls in this country are sexually abused. We used to think that only girls were sexually abused. Now we know that it happens to both boys and girls. Some counsellors think that just as many boys as girls are sexually abused, but that boys are more afraid to admit it’s happened to them.
Who does the abusing?
Men and teenage boys do most of the sexual abusing, but women and teenage girls also sexually abuse young boys. Boys and girls your own age may sexually abuse other children, but that’s not as common as adults and teenagers doing it. Males sexually abuse boys more often than females do. This is because a lot of males learn to be forceful and take what they want. A lot of people think the men who sexually abuse boys do it because they are gay or homosexual. This idea is wrong. Men molest boys because they want to use their sexual power against someone smaller and weaker. They are sexual bullies. Whether they are gay or not has nothing to do with it. In fact, about 95% of the men who sexually abuse boys are not gay. If they were, they would want to spend their time with other gay men, not with young boys. Some boys think that if a man has sexually abused them, then they must be gay themselves, or the man wouldn’t find them interesting. This idea is wrong too. Men who do this do it because they are sexually attracted or ‘turned on’ to children. Males grow up to be either heterosexual (prefer women) or homosexual (prefer other men). We don’t quite know why, but we do know it has nothing to do with having been sexually abused.
Boys who are molested by men are often afraid of growing up to be homosexual. Sometimes they are afraid that other boys will find out and call them names like ‘fag’ or ‘gay: A good counsellor can help abused boys get over these fears.
When boys are sexually abused in a painful way like Nathan was, they are often afraid of damage to their bodies. And they are often afraid of AIDS. A good counsellor will work with the doctors and nurses to help calm your fears.
Was it my fault that I was sexually abused?
No, it wasn’t. The person who sexually abused you may have tricked you. He may have pretended that he was lost or that his dog was lost. He may have pretended he was going to show you how to hold a baseball bat. He may have pretended that he was going to teach you about sex. He may have pretended that he wanted to be your friend just so he could sexually touch you. The person who sexually abused you may have started by showing you something really interesting, like a model train, or a record collection, or a fish tank, or his new truck. Then he abused you when you weren‘t expecting anything bad to happen. The person who sexually abused you may have offered you money, or liquor and cigarettes, or a chance to play with some interesting toys. Sometimes boys think the abuse was their fault for accepting a gift, or letting themselves be tricked, or going to the abuser’s house instead of going home on time.
Sometimes kids let the abuser touch them because they really want the gift. Then they feel bad after and think it was their fault, but it’s not. Adults are supposed to take care of kids, not trick them o they can sexually abuse them.
What do we know about people who sexually abuse children?
Abusers don’t want to get caught, because if they do they e to go to jail. So they may tell you to keep the abuse a secret. Abusers may threaten you to make you keep the secret. They may tell you that you or your family may be hurt or killed if you tell.When this happens you feel trapped. Abusers may offer you presents to try to get you to agree to Abusers may look for other children to abuse. Many men who abuse children do it over and over again. They really enjoy abusing children and don’t want to stop. They are called pedophiles, and they are quite dangerous.
Abusers like to make their victims think it was their fault. This way they have power over you. If you have been sexually abused, you get some of your power back when you learn that the abuse wasn’t your fault.
Justin’s mother’s boyfriend’s would molest him when his mother was incapacitated. Justin told his counsellor everything right away. But he also gave the counsellor a bad time. Justin threw paint around the counsellor’s office, and even tried to hurt the counsellor. But after many talks with the counsellor Justin got his angry feelings out. Then he stopped trying to abuse other children. Today Justin has some good friends and is happier in his foster home.
Why is sexual abuse a bad thing?
When you have been sexually abused, you often feel ashamed and frightened. When you have these feelings, they take over your mind. Then it’s really hard to enjoy your friends and your family. It may be hard for you to do your school work or to sleep properly at night. You may feel that there’s no room in your mind for normal things. Then you get so confused and angry, you want to get even and hurt people – your parents, your pets, your friends – anyone who gets in your way. You might think that all you have to do is forget about what happened. But this doesn‘t really work. If you forget the abuse now, you could have a lot of problems later. Like taking drugs or running away. You might even have problems in your adult life. So sexual abuse is a bad thing, but it doesn’t have to ruin your life. You can get help. When you go for help, remind yourself, “It wasn’t my fault.”
Some boys think they aren’t really manly if they talk about their feelings. But then they learn that talking about feelings takes a lot of courage. That’s what Bob learned.
How do I get help?
If you have been sexually abused, you must have help. The best way to get help is by telling someone what has happened to you.If you don’t, the abuse could happen again. If you are still being sexually abused, you need to make it stop. And to make it stop you may need help from someone older and stronger than you are. Boys often think they can make bad things stop without getting help. Someone may have told you, “Just say no’: or “If anyone tries to touch you, just yell or bash them one’: That is foolish advice. The abuser is probably bigger and older than you are. You need a helper. Don’t worry about looking foolish if you go for help. It might be the most important thing you’ve ever done. If you decide to go for help, think very carefully before you decide who to tell. Is the person you’ve chosen really going to help you? If you tell your mother, will she believe you? Or will she just scold you for getting into trouble? If you tell your father, will he help or just make a big noise and tell you to forget about it? In most cases, your parents are the best people to tell, and they will try to help you. But if your mother or father is the abuser, then you’ll have to come up with a different idea.
Here are some other people
you can tell:
An aunt or uncle
A teacher or school counsellor
A social worker
A police officer
A brother or sister, but only if you’re sure they’ll tell an adult and they aren’t the abusers. If the first person you tell doesn’t help you, keep trying! Tell someone else you trust. Telling is the most important thing to do. If you don’t, the abuse may continue. If the abuse happened a long time ago, and has stopped, you still have a secret. This secret almost always makes you feel bad. So it’s still important to tell someone.
Carlos had a principal and soccer coach that he quite liked, who slipped his hand in to Carlos’ pants after a game one day. Carlos’ told his father and the police were called and the principal had been molesting other kids and lost his job. Once he was gone though, Carlos missed him If children like the person who has sexually abused them, they may miss that person as well as feel mad at him. The sad feeling is called grief. It took Carlos a long time to get over his grief.
How will I feel after I tell?
At first you will feel better. This is because you have the secret off your chest, and you will feel brave. It takes a lot of courage to tell a secret you feel guilty about. Some people may say, “We‘re glad you told.” But later you might feel sorry you told.
There are some things you might find difficult:
The police will want to interview you, and ask you a lot of You may have to go to the hospital or to your family doctor for a medical examination. The doctor will want to make sure that your body is okay.Some of your family may be glad that you told, but some of ay not. If the abuser was a favourite uncle, one of your brothers or sisters may be mad at you for telling.The abuser may have been someone you admired, like a coach or older sibling. Then you may feel sad if telling means you are not going to see them any more.
You may have to go to court to tell the judge and the what happened. This may seem scary at first. The social worker may want you to see a sexual abuse counsellor.
What will the sexual abuse counsellor do?
The sexual abuse counsellor can help you talk about your feelings. When you have been sexually abused, you have a lot of feelings that are hard to understand. The counsellor can help you sort them out and make sense out of them. The counsellor may ask you to talk about the abuse. Or ask you to draw pictures to show how you feel. Your counsellor will understand how boys feel when they have been sexually abused. The sexual abuse counsellor will talk to your parents and explain how you feel, so that they understand. The counsellor will tell them how they can help you the most. The counsellor will try to understand their feelings as well. Suppose you have to go to court. The counsellor will help by working with the police and the Crown Prosecutor. The prosecutor is the lawyer for the state who is on your side if you go to court.
How do boys usually feel about sexual abuse?
The boys you read about, the boys in this article all had different stories and different feelings. They were afraid of different things such as getting AIDS, being called names, and being hurt by the abuser. Carlos suffered from grief, and Justin was so angry that he hurt other people. The boys started to feel better when they could tell the counsellor about feeling afraid and lonely and sad. And about feeling angry, and being tricked and cheated and trapped. After a while they learned how to be ordinary kids again. They felt a lot better when they realized they could talk to the counsellor about things like video games and hockey cards – not just about sexual abuse. Later the counsellor asked them to be in a group so they could talk to one another about what it’s like to be sexually abused. That way they could help each other and not feel so lonely. One important thing they found out was that they all felt guilty. They all felt that it was partly their fault for being sexually abused. The counsellor kept reminding them that they they not responsible. After a while they knew that was true, and then they felt a lot better.
What do sexually abused boys need most?
If you have been sexually abused, you need a lot of help:
You need to get a lot of understanding and support from people around. You need help from trained counsellors. You need help from other people like social workers, teachers, police and family. When you get the help you need you will get over the sexual abuse. Then you’ll feel just like an ordinary kid again. END
Okay, I know I was abused, what next…
‘Why should I admit the abuse?’
‘I’ve coped with it all these years and bringing up all of these unpleasant memories feels uncomfortable and painful’
These are common responses to the healing process.
Child abuse of any type has a lasting effect on ones development. Although the adult has buried his or her experiences deep within the realms of the mind, the effects of the abuse continue in the fore front of everyday life. Although the victim may consider their abuse to be over, the lasting effects will continue to haunt an individual. It is only by recognition and acceptance that the real process of healing can begin. It will be difficult to start with but eventually the light at the end of the tunnel will become brighter. Next you will need to break the denial and talk about your experiences. You should set yourself realistic limits, don’t try to deal with it all at once. The abuse may have dug it’s roots into your system over many years, don’t expect the healing process to finish over night. With your own patience you can do this – say it to yourself. If you feel tired, drained or unfocused then take a break and start again when you are ready. The whole journey is done at your pace. START A JOURNAL! A journal is an excellent way to express yourself and then to step back and analyze your emotions. Alternatively or as well as, talk things through with a close friend or lover; only do this if you have their confidence and you know you can trust them.