True Crime NZ Investigates: INCESTUOUS CHILD ABUSE

When we stummbled upon the alarming high number of victims of sexual abuse by the time of adulthood – True Crime NZ decided to look into this subject matter a little closer.  Opening a dialogue into taboo topics is never easy, but we must examine our own reluctance and courageously wade into this unconscious quagmire if we’re going to help. 

This episode will be slightly different from our usual content. Instead of investigating a case, we will be investigating a subject, a difficult topic to discuss, with the goal of trying to understand and ultimately, equip us better to help victims of incestuous child abuse in NZ.

If you need help for any of the topics discussed in the episode. Resources and support are availble. You are not alone.

Child Abuse PREVENTION Resources:
Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children
Help Auckland
Are you OK
Child Abuse Prevention Parent Helpline0800 568 856

Visit www.truecrimenz.com for additional information on this case. Including a transcript of this episode, with supporting pictures, sources, and credits.

“Ambiment”
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

The podcast version is the intended way to consume this story but I make a transcript available for those that would rather read instead. This can be found below.

DISCLAIMER:
This episode is a investigation into incestuous child abuse.
Therefore contains some graphic and challenging content of a violent sexual nature. We believe this content is important to understanding this serious topic, as well as understanding the complete story of the victims and the aftermath of abuse. 

Viewer discretion is strongly advised.

INTRODUCTION

When we stummbled upon the alarming high number of victims of sexual abuse by the time of adulthood – True Crime NZ decided to look into this subject matter a little closer.  Opening a dialogue into taboo topics is never easy, but we must examine our own reluctance and courageously wade into this unconscious quagmire if we’re going to help. 

This episode will be slightly different from our usual content. Instead of investigating a case, we will be investigating a subject, a difficult topic to discuss, with the goal of trying to understand and ultimately, equip us better to help victims of incestuous child abuse in NZ.  

First off we need to define incest, what is it’s legal status in NZ? Section 130 of the 1961 Crimes Act states: “Incest is sexual intercourse between— Parent and child; or Brother and sister, whether of the whole blood or of the half blood . . . ; or Grandparent and grandchild— where the person charged knows of the relationship between the parties. Every one of or over the age of 16 years who commits incest is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years.” 

The act later explains the reasons for incest’s criminal status, “New Zealand’s laws on forbidden marriage and incest derive from English legislation, which in turn derives from Leviticus 18:7–18. What is important is why the laws are on the statute book today. We suggest that there are two main reasons: 1. The genetic argument focuses on blood ties rather than the fact of a family relationship. Hereditary disabilities or diseases are believed to be more likely to occur through inbreeding, although statistics do not always bear this out. Therefore society places strict limitations upon the degrees within which related persons can marry and incest is prohibited. 2. Integrity of the family – for most people, a family is a place where they wish to belong and feel secure, where they are accepted and acknowledged, loved and cared for. But the most crucial need is for society to ensure that families are stable and healthy, and that members accept responsibility for one another, as they are the most effective defensive structures against marginalisation, frustration and want. At times of crisis, social tension and personal problems the first place from which help is usually sought is within the family. The family has the potential for being the best institution for the nurture of children and for intimacy between adults.”

Child abuse is defined under section two of the Children’s and Young People’s Well-being Act 1989. Defining a child as under the age of 14. The act reads, “child abuse means the harming (whether physically, emotionally, or sexually), ill-treatment, abuse, neglect, or deprivation of any child or young person”.

STATISTICS

The next question we wanted to answer was; what are the actual incestous child abuse statistics in NZ? How many people is this affecting directly? According to Family Violence Clearinghouse, which is the national centre for research on family violence in Aotearoa 1 in 10 boys may be sexually abused before the age of 18; and for girls its 1 in 5; other studies are as high as 1 in 3 for girls

Of that abuse, 70% involves genital contact. 90% of the time it was with someone they knew, 65% of the time it was with someone from their immediate or extended family and 71% of the time the offender is male.

The College of Family Physicians of Canada, explains the effects on the children; victims of these crimes. The abuse may cause impact the child’s ability to develop normal emotional responses, “A strong and secure attachment bond with a primary caregiver is the core of developing resilience and a healthy personality. It strengthens a child’s ability to cope with stress, regulates emotions, provides social support, and forms nurturing relationships. The world is experienced as a safe place in which to explore and develop independence. The child finds comfort and support from his or her caregiver when under stress. When children are abused, they might display disturbed forms of attachment and abnormal patterns of emotional response toward their caregivers.

The paper continues, explaining how some of that ‘disturbed’ behaviour could reveal itself as:

1. An aversion to touch and physical affection.
2. Control issues: The child might go to great lengths to prevent feeling helpless and remain in control. 
3. Anger problems: Anger might be expressed directly, in tantrums or acting out, or through manipulative, passive-aggressive behaviour; the child might hide his or her anger in socially acceptable actions, like giving a high-5 that hurts or hugging someone too hard. 
4. Difficulty showing genuine care and affection. 
5. An underdeveloped conscience: The child might act like he or she does not have a conscience and might fail to show guilt, regret, or remorse after behaving badly.

In cases in which the abuse was not addressed, this behaviour could worsen and evolve into self half. In a 2017 study in victims of incest, the International Journal of Advanced Study found, “… most of the victims were abused by their own family and thought that they were betrayed by the perpetrators and their own mothers; some of the victims were sisters abused by their father, grandfather, stepfather, and brother in-law; victims were suffering from depression and denial after the incident happened and some of the victims became prone to self mutilation and suicidal ideation; left a stigma for the rest of their lives.

PAEDOPHILIA

The question inevitably becomes; why is this happening with so much frequency? Who’s doing it? It’s important to understand that child sexual abuse and paedophilia are not the same thing. If the offender is sexually attracted to children under the age of 13, they are known as a ‘paedophile’. Those who find children on the cusp of puberty sexually attractive are known as ‘hebephiles’. Some research suggests as little as 7% of child abusers are paedophiles, the other 93% fall into the non-paedophilic abuser.

Paedophilia is complex and not completely understood. Research has found a few reasons to explain the disorder. Research published by Biology Letters found paedophiles’ brains are, in essence, wired to find immature faces attractive. There also may be some truth to the cycle of abuse theory, a range of studies found anywhere between 33% to 75% of child sex offenders report being sexually abused as children. This was most common in men who were molested, implying victimisation is a risk factor for later offending in males.

NON-PAEDOPHILIC ABUSE

According to the Psychatric Times ‘motivations’ for perperators of incestuous child abuse fall into four groups: 

1. Affection-based: the incest provides closeness in a family otherwise lacking in nurture and affection. There is an emphasis on the specialness of the relationship, within which otherwise unavailable caring is given and received.
2. Erotic-based: the family atmosphere is one of chaotic pansexuality, and it is not uncommon for many members to be involved. Its norm is the erotization of relationships. The term “polyincest” is often used to describe such multiple-perpetrator situations.
3. Aggression-based: the incestuous acts involve the perpetrator’s sexualized anger. The perpetrator vents his or her frustration and conflicts on a vulnerable individual, and physical mistreatment is often involved.
4. Rage-based: the perpetrator is hostile and may be overtly sadistic. There may be great danger to the victim. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rage-based offenders are more likely than other child abusers to abduct and murder their victims.

Offenders reflecting basic sexual needs such as lust, or non-sexual needs such as power or anger, usually do not have a genuine sexual interest in children, but may molest them for a number of often complex reasons. The abuse is usually a matter of opportunity – the child is a sexual surrogate for an unavailable adult or the abuse represents a need to dominate and control another human being. Some offenders abuse children as a coping mechanism in times of immense stress. Some are psychotic individuals, and this simply another form of antisocial behaviour. Others have an intellectual disability or senility.

In a study done in 2016 done at Auckland Prison, 27 male incestous offenders were asked to participate in a study of Incest Offender Implicit Theories, in other words, why they believed they offended. What the study found was, “Distorted beliefs are considered to be the forces driving the motivation (of the sex offenders) towards committing their offenses. These distorted beliefs are primarily observed to be driven by the offender’s tendency to perpetually misinterpret information to fit their beliefs”. 

These distorted beliefs manifested as the answers the offenders gave to why they abused, examples were, Of course she wanted it! Her behaviour was a big signal for me! It felt like she was asking me to have sex with her with every gesture she made.” And “My kids love me so much. I know that! And I also know that they would do anything I ask of them. I needed love and they loved me so much and made me feel like I belonged with them. They made me feel wanted. And I could not help it. Sex is an expression of love for me. So I had sex with them in a way of showing my love towards them.”

This study concluded that, “This research distinctly brought into light, the various distorted beliefs the incest offenders, in the sample group, use in order to help them validate their offensive behaviours to themselves and the world at large. These beliefs were also found to be strongly imbibed in the offenders’ minds, restricting them from seeing the reality of their offensive behaviours, consequently, facilitating the continued maintenance of their offenses.”

COVERT SEXUAL ABUSE

While molestation or touching of children is one form of child sexual abuse, known as overt sexual abuse. There is a second from, known as covert sexual abuse (CSA). Covert abuse is much harder to identify. CSA, usually falls under the affection-based classification; this is most common in cases of mother-son incest or instances of female offending.

In these cases, abuse is much more subtle. Psychology Today explains some of the ways CSA manifests, “Covert sexual abuse, is more indirect: sexual hugs, wet kisses, sexual stares, inappropriate comments on one’s buttocks or genitals, shaming someone for the kind of male he is and homophobic name-calling. Like sexual harassment, covert incest is not easily perceived and is often subtle, such as a parent denying privacy by entering the bathroom while their teenage child is showering, or insisting children and teenagers leave open the bathroom or bedroom door. Or it may involve lingering hugs, flirtatiousness, staring at someone’s body, inappropriate comments on someone’s body parts or their development, or sexual name-calling.

THE INCEST DIARY

We could not conclude this episode without hearing from a victim of incestuous child abuse.

In our research, we came across a book at the library. The book had a plain white cover, with three words across the top ‘The Incest Diary’. Written anonymously, this book is an account of an unnamed female’s incestuous relationship with her father; from age 3 to 21. 

We will take this moment to warn you, the next descriptions are quite graphic; but once again we believe it is important for a complete understanding of the victims experiences – as the author writes in her introduction to The Incest Diary, “… everyone has the right to tell her or his story”.

The book is extremely graphic and hard to read. The author’s words are so raw, real and honest. We will refer to the anonymous author and subject of the book as the most common name for girls during the time of the events – Sarah

Sarah explains how her father would justify his actions, or as we learnt earlier, his ‘distorted beliefs’, “From the time I was very young, my father told me that we were one person, that I was just a part of him. I grew up with that inside me. I grew up with him inside me.

Sarah’s experience is truly harrowing. Presumably as a coping mechanism, Sarah sometimes writes, while describing some of the more extreme abuse, in the third person, “When I remember the day in the bathtub, I can only see it either from above, watching the two of us, or from my father’s perspective. I see the terrified girl. She’s moving in the bathwater to get away from him. But there is nowhere to go. The tub is so slippery it is hard to move, and the water sloshes about when she does. He is furious and he is lunging down at her while she cries and sloshes around in the bathwater. The water is full of blood. She is in a bath of blood. Her own blood. He did it again to her, went up into her too far, fucked her too hard and made her bleed. It made him angry. I will kill you if you tell anyone. I will kill you, I will kill you, I will kill you.”

Sarah’s story provides details about her complex sexual feelings as a child; feelings that followed her into her adult life, “My Father is my secret. That he raped me is my secret. But the secret under the secret is that sometimes I liked it. Sometimes I wanted it, and sometimes I seduced him and made him fuck me… I read in a book about torture that the more a captive is raped, the more likely she is to experience pleasure. Pleasure as a means of survival.”

While abuse affects everyone differently, survivors of incestuous child abuse often describe symptoms of trauma or post traumatic stress disorder. Psychology Today describes these symptoms, explaining that victims, “… often report feeling anxious or scared even in the absence of danger. More intense flashbacks and terrifying nightmares are common symptoms as well, as is a faulty flight-or-fight response. These symptoms are thought to be the result of changes in the brain and body that affect hormone production—particularly adrenaline—and cause the brain to respond incorrectly to situations that “trigger” the individual.

When Sarah was 21 years old, she was raped her father for the last time. After this she decided she could no longer live with this secret. She opened up to an elderly neighbour that her father raped her when she was young, “She leaned over to me and I thought she was going to embrace me, but she put her hand over my mouth. “Get over it,” she said. “Don’t talk about it. Forget it, and get over it.” She then told me that she had been molested when she was a child. She said her parents knew and didn’t do anything about it. “But these are things to forget and get over,” she said. She told me to go home to my father and not talk about it anymore.”

A week later Sarah confronted her father about their incestuous relationship, “My father told me that I had seduced him when I was a little girl. I remind him that I was just a toddler when it began. He replied that I was such a smart, precocious child so curious about everything, and I wanted him to touch me.”

Her father continued, explaining that he was so lonely in those days as his wife, her mother, treated him poorly and belittled him; he added that Sarah was his ‘shining of light joy’ during this dark time. Concluding, that he was sorry.

Two days later, Sarah received a phone call from her father. He explained that if she continued with her allegations he would disown her as his daughter and that she was dead to him. Her father had also told her family about the allegations. Sarah’s grandfather tried to have her institutionalised into a mental hospital; her aunt called her explaining that no one believes her and the family was on her father’s side. Her brother became repressed and isolated, he explained to Sarah – he didn’t know who to believe. 

HOW WE CAN HELP

Sexual abuse is isolating. Children often don’t speak out and open up about their experiences out of fear that everything will change. In many cases, the child has been groomed to believe they are at fault. As an example, when Sarah’s father blamed her for her being raped earlier. Responsibility for sexual offending always lies with the offender.

Fear is a frequent factor why young people do not disclose the abuse to their family members. It is common for young people to build a picture of how their parents will respond to disclosure of sexual abuse well before it happens. This may direct when and how they disclose the abuse. 

Many children may already believe that caregivers and other adults in their life know about the sexual abuse and do nothing about it. Sometimes young people even feel the sexual abuse is ‘written all over their face’. As an anonymous victim explains, “I just didn’t think they would believe me, I thought they knew and didn’t care.”

Children opening up to another person about them been sexually abused requires a great deal of trust that they will be believed or taken seriously. Some people find it difficult to accept that sexual abuse happens. Deciding to ignore the child’s safety and take no action may actually further impact their long term mental health. 

Ultimately in cases of incestuous child abuse, the safety of the home has been compromised. It can be easier to take a position of ‘not believing this could have happened’ because it’s easier than having to believe it could. The abuser must be removed from the situation immediately. We need to rebuild the safety in the victim’s home, allow children to feel safe to open up about their trauma. As another anonymous victim explains, “Having space and feeling safe at home is really important. It’s kind of pointless to tell and go through all that stress at home if you don’t feel safe after telling, for them not to care about your safety. You shouldn’t even have to ask if you want the person around, if you say no once it should be respected.” 

CONCLUSION

Incestuous child abuse is a difficult topic to talk about and abusers have used that uncomfort to their advantage. Research has found that children are most likely to open up to non-family members first about their abuse. This means all of us, not only parents could find ourselves in a situation where abuse is exposed. 

Remember, they are children, they are scared, they just want to feel safe again. They possibly are already feeling unloved and isolated. The child is reaching out, asking in perhaps a cryptic way for help. It is our duty to answer that call for support and ultimately, try in whatever way we can; to help. As difficult as it might be for us to deal with an extremely serious and complex situation – it is nothing compared to a lifetime of suffering the child is looking at, if the abuse is ignored and therefor facilitated.

AFTERWARD

In no way are we saying we are authority on this subject. Ultimately, we are trying to help generate conversation and remove the stigma of something that is affecting so many people. This podcast was an attempt to get a better understanding of this epidemic because we care. 

This podcast was only possible the result of the amazing work of others including, New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, Help Auckland and Are you OK? If you would like to read more or may even be affected by this troubling subject, know that there is support – I have linked some resources in the show notes.

Also the book mentioned in the podcast The Incest Diary may not be the easiest read, but it is a harrowing and honest account of incestuous child abuse. One that we found to very illuminating on the day to day reality of the effects of child sexual abuse. Thank you to the author for being so brave to talk about something so difficult.

Finally, thank you for listening. The reason we decided to do an episode on this subject was because it felt under represented compared to its prevalence. We understood that it was not going to be an easy listen but felt it necessary to contribute something to the conversation. I promise, next episode will not be so challenging to listen to. Tēnā koutou katoa.

SOURCES

Psychology Today, Mommy Nearest, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understanding-the-erotic-code/201704/mommy-nearest
New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse, Data Summary: Child Sexual Abuse, https://nzfvc.org.nz/sites/nzfvc.org.nz/files/DS4-Child-Sexual-Abuse-2017.pdf
Are you OK?, How can I protect my child from sexual abuse?, http://www.areyouok.org.nz/assets/AreyouOK/Resources/Preventing-Child-Sexual-Abuse.pdf
NZ Herald, Child-on-child sexual abuse is soaring and this could be why, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11930756
NZ Herald, Unravelling secrets of sexual abuse, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=887959
Psychiatric Times, Ramifications of Incest, https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/sexual-offenses/ramifications-incest
Medical Science Monitor, Evaluation of social and demographic characteristics of incest cases in a university hospital in Turkey,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4010601/
Think Big, Is Incest Wrong?, https://bigthink.com/think-tank/is-incest-wrong
Wikipedia, Incest,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incest
Psychology Today, The Problem With Incest, https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/animals-and-us/201210/the-problem-incest
Daily Beast, ‘Fauxcest’: The Disturbing Rise of Incest-Themed Porn, https://www.thedailybeast.com/fauxcest-the-disturbing-rise-of-incest-themed-porn
Australian Psychological Society, Differentiating child sexual abusers, https://www.psychology.org.au/inpsych/2013/october/davis/
The Conversation, Psychology of a paedophile: why are some people attracted to children?, http://theconversation.com/psychology-of-a-paedophile-why-are-some-people-attracted-to-children-59991
The Conversation, The causes of paedophilia and child sexual abuse are more complex than the public believes, http://theconversation.com/the-causes-of-paedophilia-and-child-sexual-abuse-are-more-complex-than-the-public-believes-94915
Help, Sexual Abuse Statistics, https://www.helpauckland.org.nz/sexual-abuse-statistics.html
Help, Child Therapy for the Impacts of Sexual Abuse, https://www.helpauckland.org.nz/uploads/1/1/9/2/119275224/child-therapy-for-the-impacts-of-sexual-abuse-anna-osullivan.pdf
Help, The Ripple Effects of Sexual Abuse, https://www.helpauckland.org.nz/uploads/1/1/9/2/119275224/book-1-the-ripple-effect1.pdf
Help, One Path Ahead, https://www.helpauckland.org.nz/uploads/1/1/9/2/119275224/book-2-one-path-ahead1.pdf
Psychiatric Times, Ramifications of Incest, https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/sexual-offenses/ramifications-incest
Psychology Today, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder
International Journal of Advanced Research, INCEST VICTIMS: A CASE STUDY, http://www.journalijar.com/uploads/755_IJAR-19732.pdf
Journal of Psychology and Clinical Psychiatry, A Qualitative Study of Incest Offender Implicit Theories with the Use of a Modified Assessment Tool, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9d5d/3df6731f831b9104324f7cc98c27f9490d0f.pdf
New Zealand Law Commission, 11. Forbidden marriage and incest, http://www.nzlii.org/nz/other/nzlc/pp/PP38/PP38-11_.html

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