Their story startled the nation. In February 2011, 19-year-old twins Kellie and Kathie Henderson, sitting on the stage with Oprah Winfrey, told their horrific story of 10 years of sexual abuse by two brothers and, eventually, their father. Motivated by the desire to inspire other incest victims to come forward and report such abuse, the Hendersons revealed the often-shocking details of their experience, six years after a neighbor in whom they had finally confided rescued them.
This story of sibling and paternal sexual abuse reflects a social problem that is far greater than acknowledged by official statistics, policymakers, and service providers (Finkelhor, 1980). Known as incest, family sexual abuse is shrouded in secrecy and social stigma. Hidden from relatives, communities, schools, and neighbors, incest is underreported, underrecognized, and often goes unpunished, leaving child victims to suffer in silence and adult survivors to manifest myriad psychosocial problems (Daie, Witztum, & Eleff, 1989).
Sibling sexual abuse is the least recognized form of incest, while sexual abuse by related adults in a family receives the most attention. Meanwhile, victims of sibling abuse remain unseen, waiting to be found and helped. Social workers are in a unique position to lead the effort to uncover the injuries of sibling incest and promote a climate that supports victims in disclosing their experiences and receiving appropriate services.
Failure to Recognize Abuse, Fear of Disclosure Many children fail to identify themselves as victims of sibling incest. Older brothers or sisters may take advantage of the sexual naïveté of younger siblings to initially trick them into incestuous behaviors. Sexual behaviors are frequently couched in the context of play, and young victims are likely to find these activities pleasurable.
There is evidence that many victims carry the secret into adulthood, remaining confused about issues of mutuality and consequently feeling ridden with guilt, shame, and low self-esteem (Ballantine, 2012; Carlson et al). The secret can be so buried that adult survivors fail to connect the incestuous behaviors of their childhood with current life problems such as depression, anxiety, poor job performance, and interpersonal difficulties.
Abuse Obscured in Chaotic Families Sibling sexual abuse victims often live in dysfunctional family environments that subtly foster incestuous behaviors and are not conducive to disclosing the secret. Sibling incest appears more likely to occur in large families characterized by physical and emotional violence, marital discord, explicit and implicit sexual tensions, and blurred intrafamilial boundaries. Emotionally and/or physically absent parents may empower older siblings to assume parental roles. In short, these families are chaotic and unlikely to recognize the significance of behaviors occurring between siblings. If sexual behaviors are noticed, they are likely to be minimized and misinterpreted as a normal aspect of childhood development. Lack of adequate parental supervision provides perpetrators with ongoing opportunities to offend and protects the secret, leaving the victim vulnerable to continuing abuse (Asherman & Safier, 1990; Caffaro & Conn-Caffaro, 2005).
Professional Failure to Identify Sibling Incest While conducting comprehensive assessments of dysfunctional families, professionals are likely to focus on the more salient aspects of family dynamics, with only a superficial examination of sibling relationships. Similarly, when specific presenting problems are identified, professionals may not consider deeper exploration of sibling relationship dynamics as especially relevant. Because young sibling victims often appear free of trauma effects or other evidence of abuse and because they are likely to feel at least partially complicit with the behaviors, the indicators of sibling incest remain buried.
Today, teachers and medical professionals are better trained to recognize indicators of sexual abuse and manage aspects of reporting. However, most attention is focused on adults as perpetrators with less awareness of the possibility of same-generation abuse. Teachers may have more opportunities to observe sibling dynamics in school settings, but unless they are sensitized to the dynamics of sibling incest, they are unlikely to discern indicators that could lead to uncovering the secret.
The Role of Social Work The hidden nature of sibling sexual abuse, coupled with the importance of early disclosure to achieve effective treatment outcomes, suggests that social workers are in unique positions to respond to this serious social problem. Helping victims of sibling incest acknowledge and reveal their secrets is the first step in a recovery process. Because victims are prone to silencing their abusive histories, this step often requires proactive intervention on the part of social workers. Because protection of the secret is often instrumental in maintaining individual and family equilibrium, disclosure may not occur until years after the abuse begins or ends. Since social workers interact with people across the life span, they are positioned to assist victims in disclosing sibling incest at any age, thereby initiating the recovery process.
References Ascherman, L. I. & Safier, E. J. (1990). Sibling incest: A consequence of individual and family dysfunction. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 54(3), 311-322.
Under the care of her aunt, Pat Houston, in the months since her mother's untimely February 2012 passing, Bobbi Kristina, 19, attempted to defend her romantic relationship with Gordon to her extended family on the Oct. 24 premiere of Lifetime's The Houstons: On Our Own.
There are all sorts of reasons turning that particular stance into actual public policy might be a very bad idea, but why are you willing to allow this exception for rape and incest? Why is the full prohibition, which the Church makes for individuals, inappropriate for public policy? Does it just not poll well?
The Pearl: A Magazine of Facetiae and Voluptuous Reading was a pornographic monthly magazine issued in London during the mid-Victorian period by William Lazenby. It was closed down by the British authorities for violating contemporary standards of obscenity.
The Pearl ran for eighteen issues from July 1879 to December 1880, with two Christmas supplements. As an underground publication, it was limited to 150 copies and cost twenty-five pounds, which made it unusually expensive relative to comparable contemporaneous pornographic periodicals. The Christmas Annual, a crudely produced supplement that ran sixty pages, sold for three guineas. Only the special numbers contained illustrations. The publisher and editor, William Lazenby, also wrote some of the content. The magazine was distributed discreetly through mail order. Based on the cost and subject matter, the target audience appears to have been middle- and upper-class professionals. Two of the flagellant poems were composed by Algernon Charles Swinburne, though it is unclear whether he authorized their publication. The format of the magazine, in combining a mix of short stories, serial fiction, current events, and letters to the editor, parodied contemporary family magazines such as Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, which itself contained depictions of corporal punishment. Parts of the magazine were later compiled and translated into German.
After the magazine was shut down, Lazenby would go on to publish three subsequent pornographic magazines, The Cremorne (1882), The Oyster (1883), and The Boudoir (1883). The popularity of pornographic magazines like The Pearl was part of a trend that began in the 1860s of capitalizing on the profitability of writing about sex, which served to proliferate discourses about sexuality by the time of the fin de siècle in England.
In 2011, a local councillor in Australia was convicted for possession of "child exploitation material" because a digital copy of The Pearl was found on his laptop. Greg Barns, the director of Australian Lawyers Alliance, noted that the conviction would imply criminality for possession of any number of works of art and literature, and media reports pointed out that HarperCollins had republished the magazine in 2009, and was currently available on Amazon. When the Victorian origins of the materials were identified on appeal, the conviction was set aside.
The United Nations (UN) monitoring committees of the international human rights treaties have repeatedly voiced their concern about the denial of access to legal abortion in Peru in cases of rape and incest. In 2012, they recommended to modify the general prohibition on abortion in such a way that it allows therapeutic abortion and abortion in cases in which the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, and provides free medical services to the victims of rape.
There were about 400 "hand drawings, computerized drawings and photographs," according to a report. Some of the images were of well-known cartoon characters, such as the Simpsons, the Flintstones and SpongeBob engaged in pornographic acts. Some of those images depicted incest.
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