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Incest - The Last Taboo (Part l)

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 53 Issue: 1 Dated: (January 1984) Pages: 2-9
R J Barry
Date Published
8 pages

Incest is a vastly underrported crime which occurs most frequently in multiproblem families and which traumatizes the victim.


Authorities estimate incest occurs in over 10 percent of American families, yet only 20 percent of these offenses are reported. The crime often goes unreported because it is initiated by someone the child, usually a girl, loves and trusts. When a child does report a case of incest, friction usually develops within the family. The child may decide to say nothing, thinking that she is saving the family or assuming that this is normal behavior. Americans prefer to ignore the reality of incest, and there are many myths about the subject. A small sector of society even advocates relaxing the age-old incest taboo, claiming that the harm is insignificant. In reality, victims of incest are more likely than other children to become involved in drugs or prostitution. The causes and effects of incest vary according to the relationship of the family member involved. The incestuous parent often lacks control or feels confusion about his role in the family, while stepparent incest does not have the strength of the incest taboo as an inhibition. Sibling incest, possibly the most common form, is less traumatic for children close in age who consider it play, but the stereotype of innocent games has only limited application. Father-daughter incest creates the greatest emotional devastation: the daughter feels trapped, assaulted in her own home. In cases of father-daughter incest, the daughter typically has low self-esteem and relates to her mother poorly. Incestuous fathers frequently have backgrounds of sexual abuse in their own childhoods, are commonly alcoholic, and are typically authoritarian, domineering, and unable to elicit the warmth and closeness they seek. A high-stress incident in their lives usually precipitates the first occurrence of incest. When caught, they try to blame someone else. Father-son incest, mother-son incest, and mother-daughter incest, occur infrequently. Twenty-six notes are included.