Monday, 11 June 2012

INCEST: The stories of two women

When I was doing counselling many years ago in a prison where women were kept, I interviewed two of the women who were lesbian partners. They told me what they believed made them turn into lesbians. They gave me their permission to record our conversations when I was interviewing them as they were telling me their stories and later they gave me their permission to have this article published .  


 The greatest love between human beings in the early years of childhood is between parents and their children. The cohesion that keeps parents and their children so close to one another is the end result of the recognition by the parents that their children are an extension of themselves and the recognition by the children that they exist because of their parent's love for each other.

The generally accepted definition of a family is that which has ties of blood but it can also exist by virtue of people living in the same household. For example, if a woman lives common-law with a widower who in turn cares for the child of his deceased's wife's first marriage, there are no ties of blood bonding the three of them together but the fact that they share the same household virtually classifies them as a family.

 The idealic family is not destined for everyone of course. There are parents who neglect and emotionally, sexually and physically abuse their children. There are also children, who are rotten  to  the  core  and  care  little  or  nothing  towards  the feelings or welfare of their parents,

Included in this piece are the two  brief histories of two women who were both incestuously assaulted as small children. The assaulst were not as dramatic as some but they were sufficient enough to destroy the lives of both women. 
The story of Elsie

 Elsie Marlowe* is 24 years old and she lives with Linda Roberston* a woman who is 43. Both are lesbians and they both believe that they are lesbians because as small children, they were each incestuously assaulted by their father and surrogate father respectively. I doubt that these men really understood the potential psychic  damage  they  were  doing  to  both  women when they were small children or for  that  matter  even  cared,  but  as  both  of  the incestuous relationships intensified, the girls knew that something evil was happening to them.  Elsie describes her first experience as thus;

 "I was first thrown into that insidious world of incest at the age of eight. My mother was in the hospital a great deal so my father was forced to care for me and my brother and sister. During the summer of my eighth year, I wore shorts most days  and  when  my  father  would  ask  me  to  sit  on  his lap, I thought nothing of it. But one day, he began groping in my genital area and I felt uneasy about it. When I tried to break free, he hit me at the side of the head and knocked me unconscious." 

 Now comes a part in her story that is most crucial when studying the subject of incest.  
"I  wanted  to  tell someone  what  had  happened to me  but I was afraid that our family might be split apart and I would be sent to a foster home so  I  kept  the  secret  to  myself. That was a mistake I have regretted ever since. When my father realized that I wasn't going to tell anyone what he had done to me, he continued grabbing me and groping me around my genital area."

Eventually sexually abusive fathers realize that they can proceed further into incestuous relationships with their daughters if their daughters haven't complained to their other parent or some other adult. This is how Elsie tells it;

"When six months had passed, he tried intercourse with me. I screamed and made such a commotion that he never tried that again. He did however continue groping me around my genital area until I was 12 years of age." 

By  the  time  Elsie  had reached the age of 12,  she  realized  why  she  was  being  sexually  assaulted  by  her  father.

"He made me his miniature surrogate wife because it was easier for him to satisfy himself with me rather than seek extramarital sex outside the home."

It was beginning to have an effect on her thinking and attitudes towards life. As she tells it;

"At the age of 13, I began drinking to blot out the memories of what my father had done to me but that didn't work. As the years went on, I was even beginning to think of suicide. From the first time he attacked me to this day, I have never worn shorts again.”

 It's an interesting anomaly that when children see other children sexually playing with one another, they will often run home and tell their mothers. But when they are sexually assaulted by their fathers, it is more often than not kept as a dark secret. As Elsie explains; 

"It takes an enormous amount of courage for  a  young  girl  to  tell  anyone  that  she  is  being  sexually assaulted by her father. There is that nagging belief that she won't be believed and if she's not believed, there will be hell to pay."

But sometimes, the secret is eventually shared with the mother but Elsie explains how it had adverse results.

"After I moved out of the house in my late teens, I finally had the courage to tell my mother because I had less to lose if the disclosure backfired. She confronted my father with my accusation and he denied it fully. My mother accepted his word and that finished whatever love I had for her I am now permanently and forever alienated from them both."

At first, Elsie didn't understand why her mother wouldn't believe her but as she grew older; her mother’s reasoning began to dawn on her. 

"It's easy to see how my mother accepted my father's word over mine. My mother is passive, and she is financially and emotionally dependent on my father and for her to accept the fact  that  her  husband  sexually  abused  their  daughter  is something that she would rather put out of her mind. She couldn't face the reality that she might have indirectly caused her sexually unsatisfied husband to seek his sexual release from his daughter rather than seek it from her."

The sexual abuse and more importantly, the loss of trust that is so important to children when they are in their early years, had a devastating effect on Elsie and her relationships with men.  She told me;

"I have no interest in men. Every time I'm asked to go out with them, I feel sick because I can't erase the memories of my father groping his way into my genital area. After my first encounter with my father, I felt that I, like my father, was unlovable and disgusting."

Her thoughts were no different than the 33-year-old native woman who spoke at a Manitoba native justice inquiry in February 1989 and said after explaining how she was sexually assaulted by her family when she was a child;

"I thought I was dirty and bad. I saw myself as a sex object"     

 Abusing fathers don't recognize the long term damage they can do to their daughters by sexually abusing them.  Small children  may  not  know  that  what  is  happening  to  them  is considered bad in the eyes of society. But eventually they learn.  Then they begin experiencing guilt. The guilt is there because they know that  initially,  they  may  have  not  done  enough  to  stop  the incestuous relationship. If the father is sent to prison or if the family breaks up as a result of her disclosing the facts to her mother or to others; the guilt is even greater and prolonged.

Further, a young victim of incest often feels that she is unique because she doesn't hear anyone else talking about it. She then begins to feel that only she is depraved and bad.

 Elsie is a lesbian and she may never know for sure if it is because of her disgust she felt for her father or if it is because she suspects that every man, like her father, only wants to exploit her. But she believes that if her father had kept his hands away from her genital area when she was a child, she might have enjoyed having a normal sexual relationship with a man. As she says it;

"I feel that if my own father could do this to me, so could other men. I realize that other men are not necessarily like my father but whenever I fantasize as to what it would be like having sex with a man my own age,  my father's groping hands come in between me and my  fantasy. I can never forgive my father for what he did. What he did was to trash my childhood and destroy whatever future I had for a family of my own."

Elsie is an unhappy young woman. She suffers from loss of identity.  She believes that she will probably never have a normal sexual relationship with a man and yet her greatest wish is to have a child of her own, one that she can love and bring up the way a child should be brought up. At 24 years of age, she may not be permanently fixed in her beliefs but the damage is severe enough that probably no amount of damage control will correct the terrible wrong that was committed against her by her own father. **

The story of Linda

 Linda Robertson's* adoptive mother operated a nursing home in Toronto and one of the men in the home began molesting Linda when she was five-years-old. This molestation began when she stood at a window and he sat behind her and began fondling her around the area of her buttocks. As Linda tells it; 

"I wanted to tell my mother what the man had done to me but was afraid to do so. The man was a friend of one of the other men in the home who was closer to my mother than the others. I didn't say anything because I wasn't sure if my mother would  believe  me   so  I  kept  the  secret  from   my   mother all through the years and to the day my mother died."

When Linda was 43 years old and I was interviewing her, she still remembered the years of sexual abuse she received from a man who acted as one of her surrogate fathers in the nursing home her mother operated. Linda tells it thusly;

"For years, the man would brush up against me and fondle me or masturbate in front of me and on one occasion attempted to penetrate me. When I turned 12, I realized that the man was willing to pay for what he had been getting for free the previous seven years. And pay he did but when I turned 15, I had had enough and moved out of my home."

 By this time however, the damage to Linda's psychic had been done. She had grown up surrounded by men and after being sexually abused by a man who could, for the most part, get sexual relief from her whenever he wanted, she subconsciously concluded that only men could get what they wanted. She began dressing as a man and had her hair cut like a man. She had no interest in having a loving or sexual relationship with a man although she prostituted herself for many years with the very gender she despised. By the time she was eighteen, her life had reached the point where there was no turning back. As she says it;

"At first, I was moving in with women who were older than I and yet, I played the dominant role in the relationship. This was probably because I was subconsciously trying to avoid being manipulated by anyone any longer. Later, I began having affairs with women who were my own age and eventually I began letting women considerably younger than myself move in with me. And as before, at all times, I played the masculine role."

 Her life went downhill by the time she reached her late teens and her twenties. She was a prostitute and went to prison for prostitution and when she got released; she took drugs to escape her torment. In her thirties and early forties, she began avoiding being manipulated by anyone any longer be it a man or a woman.

 In her thirties and early forties, she began drinking and gradually became an alcoholic. She lost a very good job she had worked hard at and became violent on the slightest pretext. On a number of occasions, she seriously cut her lover, Elsie Marlowe* with knives, necessitating trips to the hospital emergency wards. Then one day, after being informed by her doctor that the damage she was doing to her liver would kill her within a year or so, she stopped drinking cold turkey and didn’t take a drop after that.

 For the rest of her life, Linda hated men and anything that was of the male  gender,  be  it  human  or  animal  and  sometimes she fantasized castrating men just to get back at the man (now deceased) who took her innocence from her. She realized too late of course, that had she told been warned earlier that her drinking would gradually turn her into an alcoholic, she would have quit drinking. But she didn’t believe that she would be an alcoholic.

Unfortunately, the alcohol had ravaged her body and her mind so the damage was irreparable. She gradually became stone deaf and several years after that, she died.

 A factor that cannot be ignored when dealing with the subject of incest is the active role of some children when they are participating in an incestuous relationship with one or both of their parents.

In September 1983, Anne Landers published a letter written by a 22-year-old woman who said in part;

When I was 8 years old, I discovered that certain men would mess around with me sexually. It really turned me on. For the next five or six years, I actively sought men.....I discovered that my uncle and my grandfather were both interested."

In February 1989, a social agency in Winnipeg stated to the press that children between the ages of seven and ten were selling sex for money, drugs or booze. Many children participate in illicit sex with adults, even strangers on the street because they are looking for something they can't get at home—love and money.

 Some older girls who are initiated into sex by their fathers or stepfathers, find that they are in a position of having some control over their sex-mates to the extent that they can stay up later, get more spending money, get the use of the car etc.

There are two periods in a child's sexual development that are particularly critical in terms of both the child and the parent being vulnerable to physical and affectionate contacts going too far. The first is the period between the ages of three and six. This is the period when little girls try to monopolize their fathers and little boys try to possess their mothers. Sometimes they can be quite seductive about it, although they don't really fully understand the consequences of their actions.

The second period in the child's sexual development is when the child is approaching adolescence. Daughters will try to prepare themselves to relate sexually and socially to males by testing their feminine wiles and ways with their 'safe' fathers.

Fathers must be careful in not placing themselves in situations where they might inadvertently get sexually aroused because of the physical closeness that can take place at this juncture in the life of the family. This does not mean that fathers should be cold and aloof. There is nothing wrong in a father approving, admiring and being responsive to his daughter's charm and manner of dress. But his response should be by words and an embrace or a gentle kiss on the cheek and nothing more.             

Common sense dictates what parents should not do in their homes when their children are growing up. They should not blatantly walk around nude. They shouldn't share the bathtub or shower after the children are able to walk. They shouldn't let the children sleep with them after the age of six. They should be extra careful when participating in bodily contact sports such as wrestling or tag in the swimming pool.

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with giving a child physical affection. We all yearn for it at any age. But parents must be sure that the physical affection doesn't turn into physical attraction. From that, you get fondling, then groping and then illicit sex.

In many cases, stepfathers find themselves in unwanted situations that are not initially brought about on their own volition.  Many stepfathers fear the sexual feelings they experience toward seductive teenage step daughters. With no biological ties with their step daughters, the cultural incest taboo is weakened, especially if a stepfather sees his wife's scantily clad nymphets provocatively moving about in their house. 

One Maryland technician said this about his young step daughter;

"I really liked it when she crawled all over me, hugging me and called me Daddy but as she grew, it scared the hell out of me because she was a vivacious little thing and I would have sexual thoughts about her."                      

Many step fathers fearing these unwanted sexual feelings distance  themselves  from  their  step daughters  causing  the children to  try  even  harder  to  gain  the  normal  affection  that their stepfathers  gave  them  when  they  were  younger.   Feeling rejected because of not knowing the hidden motives of their step father's indifference to them, their relationships suffer in the sense that as growing teenagers, they suspect that they are unlovable and undesirable.

Dr. Roland Summit, a California psychiatrist who served as the head physician of the Community Consultation Service at the UCLA Medical Centre said in 1980 that step fathers are five times  as  likely  to  molest  a  child  in  their  care  as  natural fathers. Live-in boyfriends and transient suitors are also more predatory. He said;

"Something about a daughter's availability, her obedience and the symbolic roles played out in the family makes the child and her father (or step father) both vulnerable in the home to something that would not likely happen in the street."

Paul Jordan, a staff counsellor at the Child Sexual Abuse Treatment Program in San Jose, California went so far as to say that one out of every four or even three women have had or will have an incestuous experience.

Most stepfathers take their roles seriously and the girls in the family get along with their stepfathers as do other children with their biological fathers.

Strangely  enough,  the  theory  that  those  who  commit incest,  are  themselves  victims  of  incest  when  they  were children, is a myth. Only three out of 100 incestuous fathers experienced incest as kids. Almost all fathers who had incestuous relationships with their daughters had been beaten by their own fathers. It forces us to wonder if there is a correlation between rapists who have been beaten as children and incestuous fathers who shared the same fate when they were children. It seems that both kinds of offenders end up sexually abusing women and girls.

What is most interesting is a study  conducted in the United States which states that  after  examining  1200  cases  of  incest  in  a  woman's  penitentiary,  it was discovered that 52 percent of those who were prostitutes were also victims of incest.

Unlike rapists who commit rape because of their desire to inflict pain, incestuous fathers genuinely love their daughters and do not wish to physically hurt them. Most incestuous fathers will wait until their daughters are in their teens before penetrating them but there have been cases were  incestuous  fathers  have  tried  to  penetrated  their daughters when the latter are as young as two and three. One such offender got eight years in prison for raping his three-year-old daughter.

The signs of an incestuous relationship between a father and a daughter, especially if the father penetrates his child when she is young; is fairly easy to detect. There is a tear in her vagina or at least a redness and soreness in that area. A child subjected to that kind of sexual assault doesn't want to be left alone  with  her  father  and  she  is  constantly  fidgeting  when sitting  or  alternatively,  prefers  to  stand  when  she  would normally sit.

A perplexing problem facing authorities when they learn of incestuous relationships in families is the question of what to do about it. The proposed solutions have ranged from castration and life imprisonment for the abusing father to probation and treatment in self-help organizations. The first suggestion is obviously ludicrous although imprisonment is necessary in many cases. Here are some examples of sentences meted out to incestuous fathers-sentences well deserved. 

Lewis Charles Elliot, 53, of Dallas, Texas was a Baptist minister who sexually abused his three daughters. As a result of his abuse of them, the oldest had five children by her father, the second oldest also had five and the youngest had three. He had the temerity to say in court, "I was just like any other man." He got 50 years in prison. Just to give you some idea of just how much 50 years is, consider this; if he was released from prison in 2012, he would have been sentenced to prison in 1962.

The 37-year-old Armed Forces sergeant based in Ottawa who forced his daughter to sign a five-year contract detailing the sexual acts she was to perform with him, was
sentenced to five years in prison.

An Oakville, Ontario man, age 36, who had impregnated his step daughter who was under 14 years of age at the time was sentenced to prison for 39 months.

A  Toronto man who wanted to be the first to have intercourse with his 3-year-old daughter because, 'I made her.' was sent to prison for two years less a day.

Former Kitchener university professor, Leo Johnson, who was 51 in 1982, sexually  assaulted three girls whom he adopted, and for that, he received two-years less a day in prison for sexually abusing them.

There is another way in which society can mete out punishment to incestuous fathers or step fathers. The manner of punishment that comes to mind is the civil case that took place in Camden, New Jersey in February 1983. The daughter had been repeatedly raped over a nine-year period from the age of six by her step father who often threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone. Well she told her neighbours who in turn told the police. She sued the man for $30 million dollars and the jury gave her the award. Her award consisted of $15 million for actual damages and $15 million for punitive damages. Even if he went bankrupt, his bankruptcy would afford him no protection whatever for the $15 million punitive damages. That's a high but well deserved price for 9 years of sex with a child. He's still paying.            

Not all incestuous fathers or step fathers need go to prison. If the abuse has been non-violent and of a short duration, treatment in the community would be more appropriate.

Parents  Unlimited,  an  incest  program  that  has  been operating  in  San  Jose,  California  for  many years  has a success  rate  of  75  percent.  Treatment given to those who seek it involves working with all the members of the family together.

In 1981, Superintendent George Frid of the Hamilton Wentworth Regional Police said in an interview;

"We make a deal with a person who has been accused of sexually abusing their child. We suggest that they receive psychiatric treatment and our involvement will end there."

I am not convinced that this is the right way to deal with incest. There is no guarantee that the child will not still be at risk if the father remains in the home. The child welfare authorities should remove the child from the home if the father continues to live in the family home.                      

Alas, there are many people who do not take incest seriously. In England, a report published in 1980 and written by the Criminal Law Revision Committee which was composed of judges and lawyers recommended that fathers should legally be permitted to have incestuous relationships with their daughters if their daughters were of consenting age. Needless to say, the report went the way of the passenger pigeon—into oblivion.                                

In  May  1985,  a  Toronto  man  who  studied  ethics  as  an undergraduate while majoring in philosophy at a university, was convicted of sexually molesting his daughter from the age of four. He said that although he knew that what he had done to his daughter was criminally wrong, he didn't think what he had done to her was unethical and actually used his philosphy to rationalize that what he was doing was acceptable so long as he didn't  physically do harm  to his  daughter. In February 1989, while being considered by the law society for membership as a lawyer, he readily admitted that what he did to his daughter was in fact morally wrong.  He was not accepted.

In a report published in Newsweek in May 1984, it was announced that in the United States alone, millions of American adults were sexually abused when they were children. The Family Violence Research Program at the University of New Hampshire conducted a study which showed that as many as 19 percent of all American women and 9 percent of all American men had been sexually abused as children. North America has a population of 413 million. That means that it is conceivable that if 28 percent of all the people in North America are or have been sexually abused as children, then as many as 115 million people still alive in 1989 in North America have been or are being sexually abused as children. These figures are indeed frightening but what is even more frightening is that it is conceivable that there is same number of sexual abusers sexually assaulting children. And the sad thing about all of this is that most of these abusers are family members whom the child victims trust.

Despite these alarming figures, the majority of victims of incestual child abuse manage to survive the trauma and lead otherwise normal happy lives. There are  millions of victims who are the exception and have not risen like the phoenix from the ashes of their childhood experiences.

*  The  names  of  Elsie  and  Linda  have  been  changed  to  protect  their identities.

** The last time I heard from Elsie, she was living with a man and appeared to be quite happy.

Please note that much of what I have written in this piece also applies to boys who are sexually assaulted by men or women.  

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