Incest is a term used to describe sexual intercourse between close blood relatives.
Child Sexual Abuse
This is a general term used to describe any sexual abusive act committed against a child. When an adult, using his or her “adultness” or power and authority, takes advantage of a child’s vulnerable innocence, trust and dependency for his or her own sexual gratification and/or other adults.
Often it commences as a “game” with rewards, bribes and gifts. Perhaps continuing with threats and emotional blackmail not to “tell”.
It may start as:-
Non-touching Sexual Abuse
Such as sexual comments, language and inappropriate innuendo, genital exposure, voyeurism, exposure to pornographic material or the taking of sexual explicit photographs.
It may lead to:-
Physical Sexual Abuse
Such as acts of fondling – breasts or genital area, sexual kissing, masturbation, digital penetration, sodomy, oral or full sexual intercourse.
The Effects of Incest
The effects of incest can be devastating. Appropriate boundaries and moral codes become confused with conflict of emotions say, between loving and wanting a family unit, yet hating what the perpetrator has done.
Children do not have the necessary adult skills of power and control to say “No” or even understand that what is happening is wrong. Heads of family units, older brothers/sisters and their peers can, as perpetrators use their power (as an adult) to coerce a child into complying with their need for unlawful sexual gratification. It may start as a game. It may be continued with threats, for example the perpetrator may “start” on a younger sister/brother. Gifts, bribes and blackmail may be used to silence. It then becomes impossible to confide in, say, a mother or a sister or brother. The repression of this traumatic experience can lead to long term effects on a survivor’s daily life.
Emotional effects may be such as depression, guilt, anger, anxiety and low self-esteem. Behavioural effects such as self-harm, eating disorders, fear of intimacy and relationships, fears for their own children, alcohol or drug abuse.
Physical effects can manifest themselves as continuing aches and pains, sleep disturbances such as not being able to sleep without the light on or the door open, nightmares, numbness and panic attacks.
The effect incest has on trying to establish normal sexual relationships can generate phobias or aversions to certain sexual acts or positions or an inability to separate sex from affection which may lead to promiscuity or impaired arousal.
The Effects of Child Sexual Abuse
The effects of child sexual abuse, regardless of whether the assailant is related to the victim or not, is a minefield of trauma and emotional problems. This leaflet has been compiled in the hope that it will help those who have been subjected to incest or child sexual abuse to realise that they are not alone – which, sad to say, they often feel they are. It is generally accepted that the true numbers of children who are, or have been, sexually abused will never be known, as along with other forms of sexual abuse it is often kept secret.
Often adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse have been coerced into keeping the abuse a secret. This can be a lonely and isolating experience, bringing issues of fear, guilt, responsibility and “not being believed”. Years can pass as consciously or unconsciously memories of abuse are raised in attempt to deny the reality of the pain. Sometimes the memories can be awakened by specific life events such as the death of the abuser, the birth of a child or that child reaching a certain age. Specific sounds, smells, places and even programmes on television may act as a trigger. Nightmares, fragmented flashbacks and panic attacks occur, with difficulties surrounding issues of trust, sexuality, despondency, self-image, anger and betrayal.
Some survivors also carry the burden of shame and self-blame as their recollection of enjoying the attention, or, for example being singled out for inappropriate affection, seem now as an adult very wrong.
But it is important to remember the adult survivor was just a child with no adult power or boundaries; and to honour that child for surviving.
The victim frequently feels guilt because in some ways they may (wrongly) feel that they encouraged the abuse. He/She may feel that they went with the assailant willingly. He/She may feel guilty because they did nothing to stop the abuse. In later years he/she may feel they could have told someone and had the abuse stopped. He/She may even feel guilty because as an adult he/she feels they should hate the abuser but may still love and care for them.
Looking at these areas of guilt realistically, it is easy too see how they can have a profound effect on a victim of child sexual abuse. Generally sexual abuse begins gradually and may not at first appear threatening for the child involved. The child not being aware of what is happening will have very little reason for not returning to the abuser – indeed in many cases there will have been no alternative. With all child sexual abuse there will have been an element of blackmail, threat, intimidation and bribery – any of which would ensure that an adult felt too frightened to seek help – let alone a child.
As the years pass, not only will the child develop, but so will the assailant – a person who forced the child to take part in sexual abuse will get older and will appear not only less threatening (not applicable in all cases); but may appear vulnerable and therefore love/hate emotions will perhaps deepen.
Fear will often surface when the victim has children of their own, they may worry that their children (male and female) will suffer as they did. He/She may be afraid that if they do not disclose what happened in the past they will not be believed and that the family will be thrown into turmoil and that he/she and not the abuser will be the cause. There may be anger directed towards himself/herself or at other family members (especially a mother) because the abuse was not stopped. It may be that he/she knows or believes that family members knew about the abuse. Depression may be due to not being able to cope with feelings that he/she can’t understand or for not having control over his/her memories.
All the above can lead to confusion and despondency and there is usually a reluctance to talk about child sexual abuse because it was such a personal assault. However, bringing the fears and feelings out into the open in a safe environment can help a victim to rationalise them and to understand that the offences were committed on him/her and NOT by him/her.
He/She was the victim – with appropriate support they can turn that around and become a SURVIVOR.
These are just a few examples, each survivor of incest or child sexual abuse has a different story to tell.
What we do
Northamptonshire Rape and Incest Crisis Centre recognises that the long term effects of childhood sexual abuse can influence all aspects of a survivor’s daily life. From relationships in the workplace, to parenting, appropriate socialisation, behaviour and communication. The stigmatisation a survivor of child sexual abuse can feel can lead them to feel isolated and apart from society and the community. We understand that it may take many years before they feel ready to confront their feelings and the reality that it happened. We can support, help, listen and give hope to men/women who want to change the pattern of their lives and lessen the control the memories of incest or child sexual abuse may have on them.
At NRICC we respect that an adult survivor of child sexual abuse was a child when the event happened, with no adult values other than those most inappropriately imposed upon them.
They had no power or control over events instigated by an adult, but now, as an adult they do have the power to release the control the abuser may have had in their daily thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions. However long ago the abuse may have happened. NRICC offers free confidential and non-judgemental support by telephone or by appointments on a one to one basis. Evening appointments are available at Northampton and there is a 24 hour answer phone service.
We can also support partners, friends and relatives of survivors of child sexual abuse.
We listen. We support. We believe and we know that healing is possible.
The Northamptonshire Rape & Incest Crisis Centre, 184 -186 Billing Road, Wantage Gate, Northampton, Northamptonshire NN1 5RU
Registered Charity No. 297043
This Centre is Grant aided by Northampton Borough Council & Northamptonshire County Council
Telephone: 01604 250721