Incest is sexual intercourse or other sexual acts such as fondling, molestation, exhibitionism and sexual abuse, either physical or emotional, when it occurs between family members.
Sexual abuse happens in families of every social and economic background and the perpetrators of the abuse are often in other ways normal, upstanding members of society. Though women do offend, the majority of known perpetrators are men. The abusers can be parents, grandparents, step-parents, uncles and brothers etc. They are all people with whom the person would have a trusting relationship. Children are particularly trusting making it easy for them to betricked into sexual activity. Perpetrators know this and take advantage of these vulnerabilities. Children may or may not feel that what is happening to them is wrong, but are often tricked or convinced into secrecy by the offender. Children don’t tell for various reasons - fear, threats that they or someone else they love will be harmed if they tell, fear of not being believed or fear of getting a perpetrator whom they love into trouble. Sometimes the only ‘loving’ contact the child has is the abusive contact and they may not want to lose this. Sometimes the young child does not realise that what is occurring is wrong until later on in life.
Fear perpetuates secrecy, secrecy perpetuates abuse.
- Loss of trust – it can be difficult for victims who have been abused to trust enough to form close relationships.
- They may have low self-esteem and may have difficulty with schoolwork or job performance. Alternatively, they can become super achievers. They can become obsessive about being the best – top of the class, top achiever in the workplace etc.
- They can be hypervigilent – like a frightened deer watching out for predators.
- They may bury the memory of the abuse which may then surface years later possibly at some emotional time in their lives e.g. following marriage, the birth of a baby, or even coverage of sexual abuse on a T.V programme or in a newspaper.
- They may suffer from flashbacks in which memories of the abuse can surface suddenly, often triggered by a smell or sensation. Flashbacks can be very frightening, but they can be a sign that the trauma is coming to the surface, and hopefully some healing can occur. This is a time when professional support can be valuable.
It is important to understand that only the person themselves can decide if and when they are ready to talk about their abuse.