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Sexual abuse: Why incest remains a silent pandemic

Living
 Children are more prone to sexual abuse in the hands of those they trust (Photo: iStock)

The legal and psychological definitions of incest are miles apart. The former is constricted- describing it as sex between blood relations. Consequently, many people do not realize they have been abused.

From a psychological point of view, incest covers a much wider range of behaviours. They include physical contact with a child’s mouth, breasts, genitals or any body part aimed at sexually arousing the aggressor.

Others include invasion of privacy and safety such as masturbating or exposing oneself, peeping on the child as they undress, and making sexual remarks or gestures. Aggressors are not necessarily male parents, mothers and sisters too.

Incest is the betrayal of the most basic trust between a child and a parent or sibling. Perhaps the most devastating of all forms of child abuse. Here, the protector becomes the persecutor.

The child has nowhere to run, they run back to the fangs of the perpetrator making their reality a sewer of dirty secrets. Child molestation betrays the very heart of childhood- its innocence.

UNICEF did research late in 2018 that concluded that 1 out of every 6 women and 1 out of every 13 men have experienced sexual violence as a child. With 91% of the abuse being committed by family members.

Coercion and blackmail

Many victims are coerced; invaders use psychological lures. They convince the child that this is okay, that it is just an act of love. Children are by nature loving and trusting, making them easy targets for irresponsible adults. A child’s emotional vulnerability is usually the only leverage that most aggressors need.

Other aggressors reinforce their manipulation with threats of physical harm, abandonment and humiliation. Some actually physically harm the children to warrant silence. By preying on a child’s infantile fears and vulnerabilities, the predator has the young one locked up in their prison of cruelty.

Adults are always more believable that children. The latter can easily be ignored, some assuming that it’s just a wild childish imagination. Many offenders run scot-free.

Families where incest happens

One thing that remains a constant in families where abuse happens, is the closed climate. Devoid of any form of communication, affection and love- neediness, disrespect, emotional isolation and frustration whirl around.

Aggressors look within the family to compensate for their deprivation. The victim serves as an egress to the family tension. This distorted use of a child to care for the emotional needs of the adult can easily become sexualized if the adult is unable to control their impulses.

In spite of the privation, aggressors have other alternatives to molesting children and must carry the full weight of responsibility.

The other parent

Does the other parent know that their child is being molested? there have been reported cases of mothers who encourage incest. Even set the time and the place. Why? because the sole breadwinner would abandon them when his sexual needs are not met.

Other parents are too preoccupied- emotionally and physically to rescue. Oftentimes, the tables have turned on the victim, where the other parent utterly denies the truth and blames the child for trying to destroy their marriage. This usually happens where the stepparent is the aggressor.

There are also parents who are genuinely unaware of the incest, others have a mere suspicion while others know but do nothing about it.

When the perpetrator is the elder sibling

Few legislative measures are taken in such cases.  Opting to sort the matter within the bounds of the homestead. The parents cannot withstand the shame of such exposure and will naturally try to protect their monstrous child.

The scars of incest will be carried for a lifetime. Without intervention, victims of incest may end up with mental illnesses such as Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, personality disorders or substance use disorder.

Recommendations

I strongly believe that an active guidance and counselling program in school would greatly encourage victims to disclose and seek help. The child needs to trust and feel safe talking to a school counsellor.

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