Because many children don’t disclose abuse and the people around them miss the warning signs, incest often goes undetected. Here are some important points to know about disclosure and how to develop awareness of the signs of incest. It is crucial to intervene when you suspect a child may be the victim of incest. If you have any questions, please, reach out to an organization in the Incest AWARE Alliance.
How to Listen & Report Incest.
Rape is the most underreported crime in America; many cases of incest are never reported. It is all of our responsibility to be aware of incest warning signs and to take informed action to keep children safe and keep the person who harmed from hurting others.
Children may or may not disclose incest. Understanding why so many children choose not to tell and how they do disclose is key to good intervention. This article is helpful for understanding child sexual abuse disclosure, and these tips can help us respond in the most helpful way.
Be aware that adults can also be victims of incest and may not disclose. Molestation doesn’t always stop at 18; it can continue into adulthood or morph into other forms of manipulation and abuse. Even if the overtly sexual part of the abuse has stopped, the emotional and mental abuse may still continue.
If you are a parent who has learned your child has been molested by a family member, there are resources for helping your child and navigating the process ahead of you. This guide explains best practices for finding and choosing professional help for your family. Stop It Now’s Legal and Advocacy Resources Guide points parents with legal rights questions and struggles to reliable information. If you are struggling to cope with the shock of incest in your family, RAINN’s “How am I Supposed to React?” can provide some insight, and this can help you sort through the feelings. If you experienced sexual abuse as a child, you may face additional challenges. Here are some links you may want to explore.
Here are a list of resources to help you better understand how you can intervene on behalf of a survivor:
Get educated on the safest and most effective strategies for intervention in a case of incest: Stop it Now’s Helpline (1.888.PREVENT) and online chat helps those concerned for a child’s safety to talk with others about it and take action. Their Online Help Center provides customized guidance on action steps. Darkness to Light’s Reporting Child Sexual Abuse guide can be valuable too. Intervention may be a stressful experience, so don’t try to go it alone. Reach out for help from colleagues, family, friends, and organizations when intervening in a suspected case of incest. Develop your plan and involve others in it.
If you suspect a child may be being sexually abused at home, talk to the child and report what you know: It’s normal to be apprehensive about asking a child about their safety at home, but it is a vital part of intervention. A child may not disclose right away, but if they know they have a safe person they can trust, they may be more open to confiding. To build your confidence, read this article for the most effective approaches to talking to children. (For more about reporting abuse, read the following sections.)
A child is already deeply traumatized by incest, so we must take steps to prevent revictimization: Their emotional and physical well-being must be first and foremost in any effort to intervene. This resource provides a window into a child’s experience.
Reporting suspected or known cases of incest is essential to protecting people and preventing future victimization: Failure to report not only leaves a survivor in a dangerous situation; it provides an opportunity for the offender to abuse other people in the future. Want to learn more about reporting incest? Here’s a good place to start.
If you are in a position of responsibility for children, you may be a mandated reporter, and that requires you by law to report any suspected or actual case of child sexual abuse: By law, mandated reporters must report what they know, and there are often strict penalties for failing to do so. This resource explains mandated reporting, and this provides detailed information on state laws on reporting and responding to sexual abuse. If your occupation involves contact with children, this overview is helpful reading and provides links to other good resources for social workers, educators, health professionals, and school counselors.
Incest offenders must be confronted and held accountable for their actions: No excuses should be made for their behavior. “It was a mistake,” “it isn’t really that bad,” and “s/he won’t do it again” are not reasons to ignore incest and keep it a secret from others. This article explores accountability, confrontation, and justice for incest survivors, as does this piece on restorative justice for survivors of incest. If you are interested in learning more about denial in sexual offenders, read Schneider and Wright’s article on avoiding responsibility for sexual harm.
The offender’s family members - including significant others - may rally around and protect the offender instead of the survivor: This is very common. Survivors need a support network when abuse is reported, because they may be ostracized from family or accused of not telling the truth. This article offers insight into incest survivors’ experiences when talking about the abuse with others.
If you are concerned about your own thoughts and behaviors toward your children or others, there is help: This resource is a good starting place.
Remember, prevention is the best way to protect children from incest. This ounce of prevention can avoid the pound of cure.
“I never told anyone about the incest for many years. My abuser told me I would "ruin our family, and his reputation (did that himself), and made threats.
When I finally told my story in a big way many years later, I discovered
that so many of the little girls I grew up around, had also been victims.
We each thought we were the only ones. You are not alone.”
- Dr. Pamela M. Merolla