Incest refers to sexual acts between relatives. Sexual acts may be between parent and child, grandparent and grandchild, or brothers and sisters. Sexual contact between an adult and a child is never acceptable for any reason. Even if the incest occurs when the child is legally an adult, it is emotionally harmful. Incest between other adult family members and children or teens is also very hurtful. Any suspected abuse of this kind should be reported.
Incest between those who are similar in age may be less damaging, but still harmful. Incest between a brother and sister, for example, often leaves children or teens feeling guilty once they realize it is not normal in society. In addition, the dual roles are confusing. A girl may feel that she can break up with a boyfriend, but how can she break up with a brother?
Signs of incest may include:
Children who see abuse but are not victims themselves may also show some of these same symptoms. These symptoms could also be caused by something other than incest.
To prevent incest, tell children that they should not let anyone touch their body or do things that make them feel uncomfortable. Teach children to say NO to any person that tries these things with them. Children should be taught respect for adults and authority. Respect does not mean they have to do everything they are told to do if it involves incest, or keeping a secret. Children should know that they must tell someone right away. This could be a trusted teacher, school nurse, guidance counselor, relative, or friend.
If you think incest is happening to a child you know, contact your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. Most states have a child protective agency that will get involved, if notified.
It is important to stay calm. The children need help from a mental health professional. The whole family needs to be involved in treatment. The children will be feeling guilty enough as it is, so do not make them feel worse by shaming them or punishing them. Let the therapist help get you through this.
If you have issues or guilt feelings about incest in your past, ask your healthcare provider or a mental health professional for help.