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Effects of Incest: are children of incest prone to sexual exploitation and antisocial behavior? Research Paper


Introduction

The subject of incest has in the past two decades received a lot of attention and representation in the literature. This attention has risen from the recognition that incest is the most prevalent form of child sexual abuse (Hendricks-Matthews, 1991). This abuse is a violation of the child’s physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing and it has far reaching consequences in the future of the abused child.

This is because incest occurs during childhood and the victim is therefore vulnerable to being traumatized for life. Research indicates that there is a well established correlation between experiences of incest and sexual dysfunction in an individual (Courtois, 2000).

This paper will set out to argue that children of incest are prone to sexual exploitation and other social misbehaviors. The paper will begin by defining what incest is and proceed to give a detailed discussion of why victims of incest are predisposed to future sexual exploitation and antisocial behavior.

Incest: An Overview

Incest refers to “sexual contact between close family members in a down-pointing or horizontal line, or between an adult in a parent relation and a child” (Lorentzen, et al., 2008, p.194). It is the most common form of sexual abuse and studies indicate that as many as one in 4 girls and one in ten boys have been incestuously victimized (Pasko, 2010).

A prevalent form of incest is sibling Incest which is defined as “sexual acts initiated by one sibling toward another without the other’s consent, by use of force or coercion, or where there is a power differential between the siblings” (Carlson, 2011, p.77). There is a universal incest taboo due to biological and sociological concerns. All societies therefore shun this practice and individuals who engage in it are likely to shroud it in secrecy.

Incest takes place because children are by their very nature trusting and obedience. This makes them vulnerable to incest and molestation from adults whom they trust and who are more knowledgeable on issues of sexuality. Most of the victims of incest are sexually abused before the age of 14.

Kirschner (1993) reveals that children between the ages of 8 and 12 are especially prone to incest since this age group is characterized by the child trying to gain some independence. The child is therefore not likely to tell on the abuser to other people. Disclosure of abuse may result in even more victimization for the victim. This is because disclosure can lead to the breakdown of the family or cause blaming to occur.

Thompson (2009) documents that parents and teachers often blame the victim for the abuse instead of providing support which causes the victim to blame themselves for the abuse.

Blaming is damaging and it is associated with feelings of guilt relative to the abuse. There are a number of negative consequences that are associated with incest. This is because exposure to sexual abuse increases the risk of psychopathology at some point later in the life of the victim.

Negative Impacts of Incest

Sexual Exploitation

Early childhood bonding is associated with a strong negative reaction to incestuous behavior and under normal circumstances, bonding between children living in the same family results in sexual inhibition (Tidefors, et al. 2010). Sibling incest removes this inhibition and evokes sexuality which progresses to promiscuity in future.

Recent research has found that juvenile female prostitutes more often than not have a history of sexual abuse. A study indicated that nearly 70% of girls who were institutionalized for sexual delinquency or immorality were victims of incest (Pasko, 2010).

A common after-effect of incest is negative attitudes towards sex by the victim. As a result of incest negative connotations such as fear, revulsion, and a sense of powerlessness are associated with sex by the victim. However, some of the victims of incest react by becoming overly active sexually.

Incest makes the child to have a biased apperception of the self as bad and makes them feel responsible for the sexual abuse they suffered from. This erroneous interpretation results in a feeling of worthlessness which may precipitate prostitution (Silon, 1992).

Young (1982) explains that female incest victims may give themselves a new self-image – that of whore due to the disavowal techniques of the male abuser and the denial techniques of the mother. Some victims of incest feel compelled to engage in sexual behavior so as to keep abuse out of conscious awareness ((Perrott, et al. 1998).

This can be explained by studies on trauma which document routine use of dissociation as a psychological defense mechanism against traumatic experiences (Courtois, 2000, p.12). Abuse makes it difficult for the victim to maintain sexual functioning within an intimate relationship.

The negative effects that Incest has on the child are because incest introduces a child to sexuality in a manner that is physically and psychologically overstimulation (Courtois, 2000). This Traumatic sexualization results in a confusion about sexual norms and standards and also about sexual identity.

The pairing of the taboo of incest and the victim’s first sexual experience is what brings about the confusion regarding sexuality later in life (DiGiorgio-Miller, 1998). As a result of incest, the victim is exposed to sex at an early time.

When the victim reaches adolescence where sexual development occurs, they become aware of being more sexually experienced. This results in overwhelming shame which may result in sexual withdrawal or compulsive and indiscriminate sexual activity (Courtois, 2000).

Research indicates that victims of incest may engage in self-injurious behavior. Young (1982) states that the motivation for this behavior by the victim is to punish themselves. This urge of self-punishment may result from the perception of the child that her body has betrayed her.

Self-mutilation reflects the underlying depression and the lack of a desire to live by the victim of incest. The victim of incest will elicit condemnation and punishment from other people since they feel responsible for what has happened to them.

Incest which involves sexual abuse from parents results in the children being introduced to a sexual world for which they are neither prepared physically nor psychologically. This early introduction to sex may have the consequence of the child engaging in abusive sexual relationships with their siblings.

Tidefors, et al. (2010) documents that the abused child may later begin to use sexual behaviors as a symbol of affection and thus sexualizing the relationship with each other, and sometimes the distinction between victim and offender is blurred. Kirschner (1993) documents that some of the victims go on to become sexually involved with a younger sibling or neighbor.

Victims of incest are more likely to abuse children therefore continuing the incestuous cycle. Research indicates that Perpetrators of incest exhibit characteristics of low self-esteem, poor impulsive control, and childish emotional needs. Courtois (2000) asserts that the incestuous adult is most likely to have been abused as a child.

Antisocial Behavior

Mental health and delinquency experts have found that abused children experience mental and social problems across their life span. These problems include substance abuse as well as possession of a damaged personality (Nurcombe, 2000). Incest makes children more likely to engage in anti social behavior for a number of reasons.

Survivors of incest struggle with issues of self-esteem and self-concept with poor self-esteem being highlighted as the most pervasive difficulty (Kirschner, 1993). The victims also believe that they are inherently bad because of what happened to them. The victims are therefore likely to rebel and engage in antisocial behavior since they do not care about the consequences. They view themselves as bad and therefore end up playing out this role.

The coping mechanisms employed by a child during the incest period may lead to the development of additional symptoms or avoidance strategies in adulthood (Silon, 1992). Researchers have noted an associated between sexual abuse and the chemical dependency. The victim may therefore seek comfort or escape through drugs, alcohol, or gambling.

This problem is compounded by the fact that many survivors of incest are also children of alcoholics which means that they come from highly dysfunctional families (Kirschner, 1993). As children of alcoholics, the incest victim is at a great risk of becoming chemically depended themselves.

The compulsive disorders to drug and alcohol abuse that are prevalent in survivors of incest are a part of the defenses against their shame. Recent studies indicate as many as 40% of incest survivors are abusing or have abused drugs and alcohol (Tidefors, et al. 2010).

Lorentzen et al. (2008) highlight that most of the victims of incest attribute the sexual abuse to their own personal traits or characteristics which results in poorer mental functioning. Instead of blaming the adult for what they did, the child often blames himself for herself and these results in a bond between the victim and the offender (Himelein & McElrath, 1996).

This bond has a traumatic quality and can lead to poorer mental functioning later on in life. Depression and suicidal thoughts or behavior during adulthood are a common effect of incest (Carlson, 2011). The secrecy that surrounds incest adds to the trauma experienced by the victim.

Many children run away from home to escape from the abusive home environment. Kirschner (1993) documents that victims of incest often ran away so as to avoid being sexually abused. This notion is corroborated by research which indicates that a history of sexual promiscuity, running away from home, or juvenile delinquency is frequently associated with incest (Thompson, 2009).

Many children run away from home to escape from the abusive home environment. Kirschner (1993) documents that victims of incest often ran away so as to avoid being sexually abused. This escape from home puts the children at risk for juvenile arrest and the subsequent involvement with the justice system.

Discussion

While reactions to incestuous sexual abuse vary from person to person, it is widely accepted that the experience is mostly detrimental to the psychological well being of the individual (Thompson, 2009). Unlike other forms of child sexual abuse, incest is characterized by a close relationship between the victim and offender and this results in greater trauma being experienced by the victim.

The past decade has seen a growing awareness of the prevalence and consequences of incest. As society has recognized the severity of the problem, studies and reports of childhood sexual experiences have been released. Publicization of the issue has resulted in more awareness and a greater commitment to fight this detrimental practice.

The negative effects of incest can be mitigated by the use of treatment and supportive services. These services which include therapy are necessary for the incest survivor to overcome the negative self-image that was developed due to abuse. Lorentzen et al. (2008) state that therapy can help the incest victim to gain insight and change his or her self-perception.

It can also help bring about a better understanding of negative emotions such as shame and guilt (Perrott, et al. 1998). Understanding these memories will help the survivor to gain self-esteem and hence not result to the negative behavior outlined in this paper.

Conclusion

This paper has argued that victims of incest are prone to sexual exploitation and other social misbehaviors. It has been shown that incest is the most prevalent of child sex abuse. This paper has demonstrated that childhood intra-familial sexual abuse has many psychological consequences including low self-esteem, sexual promiscuity and substance abuse.

These negative outcomes are as a result of the trauma that the child faces as a result of the abuse perpetrated against them by someone they trust. Incest adversely affects the sexual development and sexuality of the victim. The survivors are therefore predisposed to sexual exploitation as well as other social misbehaviors.

While the impacts of incest are stark, this paper has noted that the negative heal by getting treatment and therapy to help deal with the traumatic experiences.

References

Carlson, B.E. (2011). Sibling Incest: Adjustment in Adult Women Survivors. The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 92(1): 77-83.

Courtois, A. C. (2000). The sexual after-effects of incest/child sexual abuse. Siecus Report 29, (1): 11-17.

DiGiorgio-Miller, J. (1998). Sibling Incest: Treatment of the family and the offender. Child Welfare, 77(3): 335-346.

Hendricks-Matthews, M. (1991). Conversion disorder in an adult incest survivor. Journal of Family Practice, 33(3): 298-303.

Himelein, M.J., & McElrath, J.V. (1996). Resilient child sexual abuse survivors: Cognitive coping and illusion. Child Abuse & Neglect, 20 (2): 747–758.

Lorentzen, E., Nilsen, H., & Traeen, B. (2008). Will It Never End? The Narratives of Incest Victims on the Termination of Sexual Abuse. Journal of Sex Research, 45(2), 164–174.

Kirschner, S. et al. (1993). Working with adult incest survivors: the healing journey. NY: Psychology Press.

Nurcombe, B. (2000). Child sexual abuse: Psychopathology. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 34 (1): 85–91.

Pasko, L. (2010). Damaged daughters: the history of girls’ sexuality and the juvenile justice system. The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 100 (3): 1099-1130.

Perrott, K., Morris, E., Martin, J., & Romans, S. (1998). Cognitive coping styles of women sexually abused in childhood: A qualitative study. Child Abuse & Neglect, 22 (3): 1135–1149.

Thompson, M.K. (2009). Sibling Incest: A Model for Group Practice with Adult Female Victims of Brother–Sister Incest. J Fam Viol, 24:531–537.

Tidefors, I. et al. (2010). Sibling incest: A literature review and a clinical study. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 16 (3): 347-360.

Silon, B. (1992). Dissociation: A symptom of incest. Individual Psychology, 48 (2): 155-164.

Young, M. (1982). Self-Injurious behavior in Incest Victims: A Research Note. Child Welfare, 51 (8): 577-584.

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IvyPanda. (2019, May 16). Effects of Incest: are children of incest prone to sexual exploitation and antisocial behavior? Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/effects-of-incest-are-children-of-incest-prone-to-sexual-exploitation-and-antisocial-behavior-research-paper/

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"Effects of Incest: are children of incest prone to sexual exploitation and antisocial behavior?" IvyPanda, 16 May 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/effects-of-incest-are-children-of-incest-prone-to-sexual-exploitation-and-antisocial-behavior-research-paper/.

1. IvyPanda. "Effects of Incest: are children of incest prone to sexual exploitation and antisocial behavior?" May 16, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/effects-of-incest-are-children-of-incest-prone-to-sexual-exploitation-and-antisocial-behavior-research-paper/.


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IvyPanda. "Effects of Incest: are children of incest prone to sexual exploitation and antisocial behavior?" May 16, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/effects-of-incest-are-children-of-incest-prone-to-sexual-exploitation-and-antisocial-behavior-research-paper/.

References

IvyPanda. 2019. "Effects of Incest: are children of incest prone to sexual exploitation and antisocial behavior?" May 16, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/effects-of-incest-are-children-of-incest-prone-to-sexual-exploitation-and-antisocial-behavior-research-paper/.

References

IvyPanda. (2019) 'Effects of Incest: are children of incest prone to sexual exploitation and antisocial behavior'. 16 May.

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