Incest

Often incest is defined as sexual abuse or sexual conduct between relatives in ones immediate family or extended family, however, the Crimes Act 1964 defines incest as a sexual connection between two people when their relationship is that of parent and child, siblings, half siblings or grandparent and grandchild. The Crimes Act has an additional section called ‘Sexual conduct with a dependent family member’ that takes into account sexual conduct that happens in extended families or those who are guardians of young people. Click here for a definition of a dependent family member.

Incest can be particularly harmful because of the close relationship the offender has with the victim. Incest often shatters a trusting relationship and usually involves the abuse of power where one person uses their power to manipulate another person.

A New Zealand study* of 3000 women found that sexual abuse within the family (‘incest’), occurred for 12% of those sampled or 1 in 8 women. Half of those survivors were abused by a close family member living in the same household.

In New Zealand the majority of offenders who are reported are male.

Incest survivors can be both male and female. All sexual abuse including incest is illegal in New Zealand and is covered by the 1964 Crimes Act.

Possible Effects

The effects of incest will vary for each survivor. Some long term effects may include;

  • problems with close relationships
  • depression
  • self destructive behaviours (eg. drug/alcohol abuse, suicidal behaviour, cutting or tattooing)
  • difficulty parenting (eg. stressing about becoming pregnant, childbirth, children reaching the age abuse occurred in the parent’s own life)
  • problems with sex (eg. physical, emotional, mental)
  • somatic complaints (eg. chronic pain, headaches, nausea) eating difficulties

Each survivor’s experience is as unique as their recovery.

Telling someone about incest

Research** shows that survivors of incest are less likely to report their abuse to the police than people who are raped by strangers. When a family member is the offender, it can be difficult for the survivor to talk about it or even to comprehend it. Incest often remains a secret and many times the perpetrator has a big investment in keeping it this way. The tactics abusers use to keep incest a secret vary in each case ranging from threats and coercion, to abuse hidden within ‘play’.  The offender typically denies the behaviour or tries to blame the victim. If the family is dependent on the offender, either financially or emotionally, the survivor will often not disclose, taking on the responsibility of the whole family at the expense of their own safety, well-being and mental health. Other reasons that prevent disclosure include expecting to be blamed, feeling embarrassed, not wanting to upset anyone, disbelief, protecting the abuser, fear of the abuser, or wanting to obey adults.

Once incest is disclosed, responses may vary in families from acceptance and support to disbelief, denial, shame, grief, anger and disgust. A survivor may often feel responsible for any change or disruption in the family. The person who is always responsible for any disruption of this sort is the offender.

      “The most unfortunate thing is that the victims are so often accused of making all this up…children don’t make up stories like these.” 

      “I feel lighter, like a real burden has just literally come off me…I felt like I’d been walking around with 20 pounds of cement on my chest all my life”

Quotes from The Courage To Heal by Bass and Davie, 1998

Recovery and support

Recovery is unique to each person. Once you decide to seek help, there are many options available, you can look at possible options on the Get Help page. Many survivors find that seeing a counsellor or attending a support group are very helpful experiences in their healing. Counselling can help some survivors to take their personal power back. It can also offer a place to talk safely and openly with someone who knows how you are feeling.

      “It took me a long time to understand that I hadn’t done anything to cause the molestation. The little girl was not to blame…he was the adult and I was the child, and not responsible.”

      “The first twenty-five years of my life were an experience of despair. They were just incredibly painful. There’s something devastating about a child who does not feel loved. And I’ve really turned that around in my life. I have experienced healing and I just feel incredibly blessed”

 

If you have been affected by incest, there are several options available to you. Please go to our Get Help page for more information. Or contact your nearest sexual assault service for support.

 

Quotes from The Courage To Heal by Bass and Davie, 1998

Research used in preparation of the information above: Johnson, 1989; Mullen et al, 1998.

*Otago Women’s Health Survey, 1989.

**Rape Crisis Incest Report by Holt, 1998; Lowery, 1987; and The Courage to Heal by Bass and Davie, 1998.