Updated: Nov 10
Child incest has long been a subject of both social and moral concern. Societies throughout the history of humankind have condemned incest as an abhorrent and dangerous act. Like crimes such as murder and rape, it is a forbidden act – a prohibited behavior – a taboo. Yet despite its long history, child incest has only recently become a subject of open discussion and objective study.
In the 1970s, our knowledge of the many aspects of incest began to grow significantly. This
resulted in part from the “women’s movement” whereby women felt freer to speak of early
sexual victimization. Then, the advent of “good touch/bad touch” programs provided a safe
atmosphere for talking about sexual experiences (including incest). There is still much to learn
on a scientific basis, particularly about incestuous victimization of boys.
Today, we recognize that incest is a serious and prevalent form of child abuse. We also realize that children generally do not seduce, as was once mistakenly believed, older relatives into having sexual contact with them. The fact is that children, being naturally dependent upon adults, are highly susceptible to the superior authority, power and knowledge of adults. It is a fact, too, that no one has the right to “use” children for sexual purposes.
Although our knowledge about child incest is growing, there is still much that remains unclear.
Unfortunately, there is no national provision for the uniform collection of data from all the states. Furthermore, the relatively few scientific studies thus far conducted do not always agree on their findings. What we can state with a high degree of certainty is the following. 1) No social class or ethnic group is exempt. 2) More is known about father/daughter incest (including stepfathers) than that of other relationships. 3) Where fathers are the perpetrators, there are generally other serious family problems including marital discord and social isolation. 4) A serious finding is that the parents themselves often suffered abuse as children.
Because of the increasing awareness of child incest, educational programs are in place to
encourage children to forbid and to report adult sexual advances. Where, historically, the
occurrence of incest remained ignored and denied, and therapists rejected patients who wished to speak of it, there has been a growth in the number of knowledgeable, skilled and helpful professionals. Enlightened child protective agencies and law enforcement services are
increasingly able to deal with the problems rationally and correctly.
Possible Behavioral Indicators of Child Incest
The following is a partial list of possible indicators that a child has been – or is currently – a
victim of incest. A combination of these behavioral indicators MAY mean that incest has taken
place. A key to determining the potential for incest is if the child suddenly demonstrates changed behaviors.
Aggressive, hostile or negative behavior
Alcohol and other drug use or abuse
Difficulty walking or sitting
Distancing from, and poor communications with, the non-perpetrating parent
Fear of adults or a specific person
Inability to trust others
Lack of friends
Loss of appetite
Nightmares of other sleeping problems
Pain or itching around the genitals or anus
Poor school performance
Regression to thumb sucking and other early childhood behaviors
Running away from home
Self-mutilation or infliction of pain
Sudden clinging; greater need for assurance
Suicide thoughts, gestures or attempts
Suppressed fear and anger
Touching adult genitals
Unusual knowledge of or interest in sex
Voracious reading as an escape
Agencies to Contact About Child Incest
What follows is a partial list of agencies to contact about child incest. Check the telephone book for local numbers.
National Child Abuse Hotline – The National Child Abuse Hotline is a toll-free number that
can be called 24 hour a day from anywhere in the United States.
Telephone # (800) 4A-CHILD
Child Protective Services – CPS is a special unit in each state and local Department of Human Services responsible for investigating child abuse (including child incest).
Police Department – Most police and sheriff’s departments have at least one officer responsible for juvenile matters or an officer who investigates crimes against persons. Dial 911 in case of serious, immediate emergency.*
*Adapted from our book, The Child Incest Prevention Handbook: Protecting Children From