From Human Sexuality and its Problems

John Bancroft

The incest offender

No clear picture of the characteristics of the incest offender emerges from the literature. Weinberg (1976) suggested three categories:

  1. The endogamic man who confines his social and sexual interest within his family.
  2. The indiscriminately promiscuous personality.
  3. The paedophiliac, who may be interested in young children apart from his own.

He did not present any evidence of the relative frequency of these types. Gebhard et al (1965) drew some distinction between those who offended against children (i.e. under 12 years of age) and those against adults, usually their teenage daughters, aged 17-18. The first type was described as a ‘rather ineffectual, non-aggressive dependent sort of man who drinks heavily, works sporadically and is preoccupied with sexual matters.’ The other type was less preoccupied sexually and generally more inhibited. He was described as ‘conservative, moralistic, restrained, religiously devout, traditional and uneducated.’ He sounds comparable in some respects to the men in Weinberg’s endogamic group.

The more recent literature on incest shows a striking contrast in the emphasis placed on the family. As Finkelhor (1982) points out, the recent increased awareness of child sexual abuse within the family has been largely the result of child protection agencies and the women’s movement. The former have tended to emphasise the family unit, both as a cause of the problem and as something that should be kept together if at all possible. Those in the women’s movement have tended to concentrate on the male perpetrator, seeing child sexual abuse as an extension of the sexual exploitation of women by men, and seeking the removal and usually punishment of the male offender. Two accounts exemplifying these two contrasting viewpoints are those of Porter (1984) and Ash (1984). Porter edited a working party report sponsored by the Ciba Foundation. This is very much based on the family approach and rather surprisingly, more attention is paid to the characteristics of the mother of the incest victim than of the father or perpetrator. Ash’s account is very much in the feminist mould, and strongly criticises the tendency to blame the mother who, it is stated, can seldom be seen to hold any responsibility for what happened, the man always being the culprit. Neither view seems to me to be sufficiently balanced. Clearly the family is likely to be important. It is also of interest that women who have been sexually abused themselves during childhood are more likely to have children who are sexually abused.

Incest families studied have often been crisis-ridden and characterised by discord, lax sexual morality and illegitimate births. The sexual relationship of the parents is often unsatisfactory. The number of children tends to be higher than average and the mother is away from home more than usual, often because of ill health (Ash 1984).

Furniss (1985) has described two types of sexually abusive family. In one the sexual abuse serves to avoid open conflict between the parents (the conflict-avoiding family). The mother, it is suggested, sets the rules for emotional relationships and the pattern of communication about sexual and emotional matters. In the second type more open parental conflict exists; the mother provides little support to the children and a child is ‘sacrificed’ to stop the conflict leading to family breakdown (the conflict-regulating family). The emphasis placed on the mother in both these descriptions is noteworthy.

From National Lampoon, January 1979

      Main Directory      

–– The Heretical Press ––