Thursday, February 4, 2010

Incest: The Private and Unspoken Trauma of Children by Amanda Richter

For anyone who has watched Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew or has read Mackenzie Phillips’ book, “High on Arrival,” you would know she has had a very troubled life that has been plagued by years of substance abuse. What many people did not know, until a recent interview on Oprah, is that Ms. Phillips is a survivor of incest. Although she admitted the abuse was consensual, one must consider the effect that drugs had on her perception of the situation.

Mackenzie’s story is not unlike many others who have grown up with a terrible secret. To cope, many of those suffering abuse turn to drugs and alcohol. As a future clinician and someone who plans to work closely with this population, I feel it is only right to bring their stories to the forefront as well as speak to their treatment needs.

On December 12, 2009, an 11-year-old girl gave birth to a baby. About a month later, DNA results revealed the father to be the 11-year-old’s step-father. The girl admitted to authorities that her step-father had been abusing her since the age of six (story published in the Houston Chronicle on January 29, 2010).

I began volunteering at CAASE in October of 2009. Shortly thereafter, I met Ms. X (name changed to protect identity). Ms. X stated she was a survivor of incest and was looking for resources in her home state of Pennsylvania in order to begin a therapeutic group for incest survivors in her area. I began searching and referred her to many national organizations such as RAINN and the Human Rights Council; however, each agency that Ms. X got in contact with told her they could not do much for her due to her lack of formal training or the absence of “letters” behind her name,.

She then began to contact local news outlets to get her story out, but was again met with resistance. Many of the newspapers did not want to cover a story about incest which lead Ms. X to think the issue of incest is America’s dirty little secret.

In 2008, 3% of all rape/sexual assault offenders were relatives of female victims while 18% were the intimate partner of the victim (US Department of Justice, 2009). In 1992, the Bureau of Justice Statistics conducted a study of child rape victims in twelve states (Langan & Harlow, 1994). The results stated that 46% of children under the age of twelve were raped by a family member. 70% of inmates admitted to raping a family member under the age of twelve (Langan & Harlow, 1994).

I guess my most pressing question is, “why have we not updated this study?” I would think law enforcement agencies would want to see whether or not these numbers have gone down in the past eighteen years. It would be very interesting to see how many of the victims who participated in this study grew up to have any type of drug and/or alcohol abuse issues. Several studies conducted through the years show a correlation between substance abuse and incest (e.g. Dembo, Williams, Schneider, Berry, Wothke, Geteru, Wish, and Christiensen, 1992; Jarvis, Copeland, and Walton, 1998).

Now is the time to step up and help victims of incest, whether children or adults. The resistance Ms. X is receiving is not right and we as clinicians must put an end to this injustice.

For further reading:

Dembo, R., Williams, L., Schneider, J., Berry E., Wothke, W., Getreu, A., Wish, E.D., &
Christensen, C. (1992). A structural model examining the relationship between physical child abuse, sexual victimization, and marijuana/hashish use in delinquent youth: A longitudinal study, Violence and Victims, 7, 41-62.

Jarvis, T.J., Copeland, J., & Walton, L. (1998). Exploring the nature of the relationship
between child sexual abuse and substance abuse among women. Addiction, 93, 865-875.

Langan, P.A., & Harlow, C. (1994). Child rape victims, 1992. US Department of
Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics: Washington, DC.

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