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Incest Rates
in America.

Little data has been gathered on incest rates in America. However, we do have some evidence-based research that offer some statistcs into how common incest is, as well as the harms it causes. If you have questions, please, reach out to an organization in the Incest AWARE Alliance.

Incest Rates in America.

We've found a few statistics.

Incest rates in America and beyond can be difficult to find because incest abuse often goes unreported. Due to stigma, the issue hasn't been the subject of much research for the past 20 or so years. The statistics below are from outdated research studies. Although helpful, contemporary evidence-based research needs to be gathered on the issue of incest, especially after a global pandemic that trapped many in homes with unsafe people. 

A substantial amount of child sexual abuse is incest. DOJ statistics show that among cases of child sexual abuse reported to law enforcement, 34% are family members. According to Darkness to Light, "The younger the victim, the more likely it is that the abuser is a family member. Of those molesting a child under six, 50% were family members. Family members also accounted for 23% of those abusing children ages 12 to 17."


One of the challenges in understanding the nature and scope of the incest problem is that research and recent data is hard to find. We know that rape is the most underreported violent crime in America. Although child sexual abuse statistics can vary widely, recent CDC research indicates that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys is sexually assaulted before the age of 18. 91% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child or their family knows. Clearly, the greatest danger to children is not strangers.

Experts believe that sexual abuse by a sibling is the least recognized form of incest and deserves further study. Finkelhor (1980) estimated that the rate of sibling incest may be as much as five times that of cases involving parents, but that statistic is forty years old, so more research needs to be done to confirm that figure. 

Although most studies suggest adult men are most likely to harm, adult women also sexually abuse children, as do other youth, especially siblings. In fact, Darkness to Light suggests, "As many as 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by older, or more powerful children. The younger the child victim, the more likely it is that the perpetrator is a juvenile. Juveniles are the offenders in 43% of assaults on children under age six. Of these offenders, 14% are under age 12. Juveniles who commit sex offenses against other children are more likely than adult sex offenders to offend in groups, to offend at schools, and to have more male victims and younger victims. The number of youth coming to the attention of police for sex offenses increases sharply at age 12 and plateaus after age 14. Early adolescence is the peak age for youth offenses against younger children. A small number of juvenile offenders — one out of eight — are younger than age 12. Females constitute 7% of juveniles who commit sex offenses.


Most adolescent sex offenders are not sexual predators and will not go on to become adult offenders. Most adolescent offenders do not meet the criteria for pedophilia and do not continue to exhibit sexually predatory behaviors. Adolescent sex offenders are more responsive to treatment than adults. They do not appear to continue to reoffend into adulthood, especially when provided with appropriate treatment."


Up until very recently, mother-child incest was considered to be virtually nonexistent. We now know that female perpetration is common but sometimes minimized or misunderstood. Females often co-offend with a coercive male partner and many (76% in one study) have been sexually victimized themselves. Data has shown that female perpetrators were reported in over one-quarter of assaults of males. Another study found that men experiencing sexual violence were actually more likely to report female rather than male perpetrators. Female perpetration of family members is a topic with insufficient research undertaken. It must be better studied if we hope to acknowledge and prevent it.


A surprising number of survivors do not disclose incest. Collins, Griffiths, Kumalo (2005) found that disclosure of sibling sexual abuse is relatively uncommon, with only 30% telling. Sperry and Gilbert (2015) found that child-on-child sexual abuse in general is rarely talked about, with fewer than 25% of victims telling an adult. 

When children do tell an adult about incest, in many cases the abuse doesn’t stop; in one study of women, 52% of incest survivors who reported various forms of incest to a parent were still being abused one year later. In fact, Roesler and Wind (1994) found that female incest survivors disclosing as children were commonly met with disbelief or blame instead of protection, validation, and support.


Why should we be concerned by these statistics? The effects of incest are severe. The majority of survivors victimized by someone they know (79%) experience substantial harm that affects their work, school, and emotional state. For many incest survivors, sexual victimization continues in adulthood, as child abuse survivors are substantially more likely than non-survivors to be revictimized as adults. As ACE research shows, traumatic childhood events such as incest are closely linked to many physical and mental health problems, substance abuse, and education and job struggles. Survivors are 10 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who haven’t. (You can read more about the effects of incest here.)


Why is there such poor data on incest? The lack of good data may have to do with controversy in the 1990s, when researchers, practitioners, and the media were charged with encouraging the false reporting of incest, discouraging researchers from pursuing further study. Richard Kluft notes that since that time,  “the study and treatment of incest has been under a cloud of suspicion that has impeded the advancement of knowledge about this devastating form of abuse. Scholars have backed away from even using the word, to the point that it has become difficult to research unless one searches under more bland and innocuous terms. Between the overall power of the incest taboo and scholars’ wish to avoid provoking acrimonious reactions to their work, the term ‘incest’ has been receding from the literature.”

People of color and the LGBTQ+ community experience sexual assault/incest at shocking rates. For example, the American Psychological Association reports that one in five black women is a survivor of rape, 35% of black women are the targets of some form of sexual violence during their lifetime, and up to 60% of black women experience coercive sexual contact by the age of 18 - yet for every black woman who reports rape, at least 15 others do not.

It’s important to remember that, as the NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault explains well, incest affects families from all walks of life and within the context of a wide variety of familial relationships. “Incest does not discriminate. It happens in families that are financially-privileged, as well as those of low socio-economic status. It happens to those of all racial and ethnic descent, and to those of all religious traditions.” RAINN says it well when they note that the very “people who were supposed to protect and care for (an incest survivor) may have caused harm or allowed the harm to continue." Here are a few more specific statistics.


All of the statistics provided below were pulled from a document by ICASA (Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault) entitled Child Sexual Abuse chapter from "By the Numbers" manual - 2007

"The Women’s Safety Project survey found the following in their study regarding child abuse:  

  • 17% of women participants reported one or more acts of sexual misconduct or abuse by a relative before the age of 16.  These results offer that approximately 1 in 6 girls have been sexually abused by a family member during childhood.

  • Of sexually abused girls, 53% are abused by their biological fathers; 15% by stepfathers, and 8.8% by uncles.[1]

  • 11% of rape victims are raped by their fathers or stepfathers; another 16% are raped by other relatives.[2]

[1] Roesler, T.A., and T.W. Wind. Telling the Secret: Adult Women Describe Their Disclosures of Incest. Journal of Interpersonal Violence (1994): 327-338.

[2] Kilpatrick D.G., C.N. Edmunds, and A. Seymour. 1992. Rape in America: A Report to the Nation. Arlington, VA: National Victim Center.

Persons with Disabilities

  • Nearly 50% of adult women with disabilities share that they were sexually abused as children, as opposed to 34% of non-disabled women.[1] While 90% of whom had been abused by relatives or individuals they knew.[2]

  • In a study of 150 interviewed deaf youth at a residential school, 75 children reported being sexually abused, 19 reported being victims of incest, and 3 reported both physical and sexual abuse.[3]

[1] Webb, Tracy. Abuse of the Disabled: Violence against Women with Disabilities. Working Against Violence in Our Community. 

[2] Paige, Carolyn S. 1991. Project Action Curriculum: Sexual Assault Awareness for People with Disabilities.  Seattle Rape Relief Disabilities Project.

[3] Sullivan, P.M., M. Vernon, and J. Scanlan, J. Sexual Abuse of Deaf Youth. 132 American Annals of the Deaf (1987): 256-262.


  • The rate of pregnancy among children and adolescents who have been sexually abused is significantly higher than that of non-victims. More than 50% were victimized by family members, most often stepfathers.

  • 11% of pregnant adolescents reported becoming pregnant as a result of sexual assault, mostly incest. [1]


[1] Boyer, Debra, and David Fine. Sexual Abuse as a Factor in Adolescent Pregnancy and Child Maltreatment. 24 Family Planning Perspectives (Jan. 1992).

Ritual Abuse

It is impossible to estimate the prevalence of ritual sexual abuse because many child victims and adult survivors do not reveal that they were abused. Victims fear they will not be believed, expect to be labeled crazy, and fear retaliation by the offender(s).

Ritual abuse is often initiated by family members who abuse their own children. These abusers may have been abused as children themselves.[1] One study found that 64% of ritual abuse perpetrators are women. In standard child sexual abuse cases, about 75% of the perpetrators are men. The social background of the abusers is often upper-middle-class or middle-class, and includes people from all professions.

[1] Cook, Karen. 1991. Understanding Ritual Abuse. University of Colorado at Boulder.


In one group of 500 child sexual abuse victims, 55 were victims of ritual sexual abuse: [1]


  • 11 were victims of “pseudo-ritual” abuse, involving threats, group sex, drugs, and consumption of human waste.

  • 10 were “private” rituals in which the behavior was committed by one perpetrator and was ritualized for personal, sadistic reasons.

  • 32 were organized, group rituals. Out of these 32, four were intergenerational. Eight involved children taken into group ritual abuse situations by their parents.


[1] National Resource Center on Child Sexual Abuse. 1989. Think Tank Report: Investigation of Ritualistic Abuse Allegations.


Survivors of incest may have particularly severe problems, especially if the offender was a father or stepfather.[1] 

53% of adult survivors of incest said the abuse caused “some” or “great” long-term psychological effects.[2]

The duration of sexual abuse affects the severity of psychological trauma. The following percentages of survivors called their abuse “extremely traumatic”: 73% whose abuse lasted more than 5 years, 62% whose abuse lasted 1 week to 5 years, and 46% who experienced one incident of abuse.[3]


[1] Finkelhor, David, et al. Sexual Abuse in a National Survey of Adult Men and Women: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Risk Factors. Child Abuse and Neglect 14 (1990): 19-28.

[2] Russell, Diana E.H. 1988. The Incidence and Prevalence of Intrafamilial and Extrafamilial Sexual Abuse of Female Children. In Handbook on Sexual Abuse of Children, ed., Lenore E.A. Walker.  Springer Publishing Co.

[3] Ibid.


In a survey conducted by Diana Russell, only 2% of incest cases and 6% of extrafamilial child sexual abuse cases were reported to the police.[1]


[1] Russell, Diana E.H. 1988. The Incidence and Prevalence of Intrafamilial and Extrafamilial Sexual Abuse of Female Children. In Handbook on Sexual Abuse of Children, ed., Lenore E.A. Walker.  Springer Publishing Co."

Although incest rates in America have been underreported and under-researched due to stigma, taboo, and social silence, Incest AWARE is actively working on gathering evidence-based research to better understand the scope of the issue, as well as how to create sustainable solutions.

Pamela Clark.jpeg

Survivor Wisdom

“Do not accept the shame that belongs to your abuser. Deshame yourself, beautiful incest survivor!”

- Pamela Clark, Deshaming Podcast

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