I’VE LIVED A LONG LIFE
My professional graduate training did not prepare me for doing therapy with sex offenders, much less incest offenders. When I was scheduled to interview an alleged incest offender at the mental health center where I first worked after graduation, I hesitated. I would have gladly transferred him to another clinician if one had been available. Inadequate and unprepared for the task and the client, I don’t know who was more anxious, the alleged offender or me.
I remained ignorant about the treatment of sex offenders until I joined the psychology staff of a state prison. Shortly thereafter, my warden assigned me the task of starting a sex offender treatment program.
Since I had been molested by both my paternal grandfather and my father, I experienced the assignment as both a professional challenge and a personal one, which it turned out to be, on both counts.
An early realization was that at the visceral level, offenders do not believe their sexual abuse harmed their victim. That is why this volume contains the hefty section on the effects of sexual abuse, especially incest.
The content of this book is frank. It is an attempt to by-pass denial, not to feed old resentments; to lift spirits, not to dampen them. I have changed names to protect the innocent and the guilty. I kept my abuse secret from my children because I was embarrassed about it, didn’t want to appear to make excuses or to present myself as a cripple, and was concerned that I might provide them with a loser’s script. I was afraid to be myself for fear of contaminating them.
Sandra Butler writes, Perhaps the only lessons we have for our children are the truths about our lives.—whatever those truths are—for that is all we know. (1985, 142-43)
Incest is real. It hurts the victim, the family, future children, future spouses, and even the perpetrator. Denial permits incest to continue unchecked. This volume’s intent is to explore in depth the machinations of incest and its effects. The following information may be particularly helpful for the unreported offender whose secrecy bars him from treatment.
The tendrils of incest may reach down through generations to silently claim unsuspecting prey within the family circle. With stealth and intent, the invisible intruder leeches off both joy and harmony while the family, ignorant that it has been attacked by one of its own, leaves the victim alone without protection or redress.
The incest offender is that invisible intruder, and may be himself a link in an older family pattern. (There is, however, no evidence that most victims will become abusers.)
What is incest anyway? Incest is the use of children or adolescents for sexual gratification by their caregiver.
Incest offenders can be divided into blood and non-blood incest offenders. The only significance of this distinction is to stress the fact that incest involves the violation of trust, and may include stepfathers, teachers, priests, coaches, scout leaders, etc. The emphasis is on the unequal power and influence over the child. This is especially obvious when the perpetrator purposefully builds rapport and friendship with the intended victim, a common practice known as grooming. Not surprisingly, the closer the relationship between the caregiver and the child, the greater its destructiveness.
I can attest to the latter statement. Although my paternal grandfather molested me as a very young child, I always saw him as somehow “different,” and I never felt close to him. My father was another story, and I believe he caused much more damage precisely because our previous relationship had been close. The molestation by my father may have also built upon vulnerabilities inflicted on me by my grandfather.
(MORE TO FOLLOW NEXT WEDNESDAY)