Few subjects in psychiatry elicit more profound, visceral, and polarized reactions than incest-the occurrence of sexual behaviors between closely related individuals-behaviors that violate society’s most sacred and guarded taboos.
“Sgroi and colleagues15 have described a 5-stage process in the sexual mistreatment of children.
In stage 1, engagement, the child is brought into a more intense relationship with the perpetrator. He or she becomes involved in more intense and gradually sexualized behaviors via special attention that engages the child’s emotional needs en route to sexual behaviors that may be normalized and introduced gradually as games or as activities that clearly bring the child desired attention. Some perpetrators use violence or threats to coerce sexual engagement.
In stage 2, the sexual interaction phase, the perpetrator builds on the preliminary grooming of the victim, and the initial sexual involvements escalate, often progressing from exposure and touching to the penetration of one or more orifices.
In stage 3, secrecy, efforts are made to ensure privacy, to reduce the victim’s understanding of the abuser’s accountability, and to set the stage for ongoing sexual activity. The child is made to feel responsible and to understand that revelation would have very bad consequences. This “understanding” involves threats of harm to the child or others. Threats include loss of attachment (because the child will be seen as bad by others or would lose the affection of the perpetrator and others); being told that the child would not be believed; being assured that the child really wanted what was done; being told the child will be rejected by God for not honoring his father, etc. The child often emerges from this brainwashing with profound self-loathing, convinced that he or she is evil, and that any revelation would only confirm his or her badness, and guarantee rejection.
In stage 4, disclosure, the secret gets out, either spontaneously, accidentally, or deliberately. The reaction of concerned others is more likely to be determined by the perpetrator’s role in the family, family loyalty, and shame than by the best interests of the child. Families tend to be most protective of the child when the perpetrator is not a parent or a sibling. Not uncommonly, the family becomes protective and defensive in its anxiety and moves to disavow the severity of the offense and its sequelae and to blame the victim and any authorities or professionals who become involved.
Adopting a shame script of denial toward the acts of the perpetrator, who is defended as “one of their own,” and a shame script of “attack other” toward those seen as shaming the family, the family becomes adversarial toward the victim and involved agencies, authorities, and professionals.16 Reasonable understanding of the world is turned upside down. Good becomes redefined as what is most likely to preserve the good name of the perpetrator and the family. Bad is redefined as what might acknowledge and shine an unfavorable light on what has transpired. The loyalty conflicts in which the victim is placed are terrible and can prove more traumatic than the incest itself.
In stage 5, suppression, the community of concerned individuals within and associated with the family moves to suppress the veracity of the child’s report, minimizing both the severity of the mistreatment and its consequences. The group does not want to deal with the consequences of the ugly truth and are eager to avoid the shame and inconvenience of dealing with agencies and professionals. Individuals may actively try to discredit the child or pressure him to recant accusations.
Summit17 summarized many of the adaptations made by victims of incest in his article “The child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome.” He described the secrecy that surrounded the abuse; the helplessness and powerlessness of the victims; their entrapment in a terrible situation and their accommodation to it; their delayed, conflicted, and unconvincing disclosure of their circumstances; and the likelihood of retraction. With painful irony, their adaptation to the abuse they cannot avoid leads to behaviors that undermine their credibility if they later complain about their circumstances.”
Originally posted 2016-11-17 13:42:01.