The Myths and Facts About Incest and Child Sexual Assault

October is Sexual Violence Awareness Month in Queensland, Australia. The theme of the month is “Stop Incest”. Before incest can be eradicated, we all need to have an understanding of the pervasive myths that prevent us from acknowledging the seriousness of this horrific crime that is perpetrated by family members or close family friends.

MYTH – Children lie about incest.

FACT– Both research and the experiences of those who work with sexually abused children have shown that children very rarely lie about incest. Statistics show that in 98% of cases children’s statements are found to be true (Dympna House Editorial/Writers Collective, 1990). In fact, children are often very reluctant to disclose what is happening to them, making detection difficult.

MYTH – Children are sexually provocative.

FACT– There is an enormous difference between sexual provocation and the natural love and affection which children display to adults who are close to them. Some men choose to abuse children’s displays of affection by turning them into an excuse for sexual assault. Freudian psychoanalytic theory has erroneously given credence to the myth that girls secretly want to have sex with their fathers. However, in reality the offender actively initiates incest. It is accompanied by the use of force, bribery or coercion as well as the child’s ignorance and confusion about what is happening, shame, fear, and dependence on their family. Children have the right to be able to trust older people to treat them properly, whatever their behaviour.

MYTH – Most child sexual assaults are committed by strangers in isolated locations.

FACT– The overwhelming majority of children are assaulted in their own or the offender’s home by a male they know and trust. In most cases the perpetrator is the father, stepfather, grandfather, brother, uncle or mother’s defacto.
MYTH – Incest mainly takes place in “dysfunctional”, working-class families.
FACT- Incest occurs in families of every description and across all socio-economic groupings. Research indicates that there is little to distinguish between families where incest takes place and those where it doesn’t.

MYTH – Men who commit incest are “abnormal” or “sick”.

FACT– Only a small percentage of perpetrators have a recognizable mental illness. The “average” offender is likely to be a “normal” married man with a family and a job. He is often well respected in the community and otherwise unidentifiable as an offender. The only common factor, which researchers have found, is that the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are male.

MYTH – Sibling incest is not harmful.

FACT– Wherever there is an imbalance and an abuse of power incest is harmful. Sexual exploration may be a part of normal development in children. However, it may be exploitative and harmful where there are differences in age, strength and gender and where both children do not have equal control over the situation. Sibling incest is harmful if the behaviour is unwanted by one of the children or it makes them feel uncomfortable or afraid.

It is also a myth that a perpetrator of incest or child sexual assault can just stop what he is doing. Without intervention and treatment, he will not stop. Please, if your child discloses incest or sexual assault, believe them and report to the correct authority so that your child is protected and you can get help for the perpetrator. Stop incest!

Some information for this article has been loaned from the South Eastern Centre against Sexual Assault.