THE SECRET TRAUMA: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women by Diana E. H. Russell

THE SECRET TRAUMA: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women

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A breakthrough study of incestual activity with female children that challenges many widely held beliefs. Russell broadens the usual definition of incest to include not only completed or attempted rape or coitus, but also fellatio, cunnilingus/analingus, genital and breast manipulation, sexual kissing and fondling. She considers it ""incest abuse"" or ""victimization"" if these acts are performed with not only immediate family members (of both sexes) but also with grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws and other extended family members. Preparation of the book began eight years ago with in-depth interviews of 930 randomly selected women living in San Francisco, a startling 16% of whom reported at least one episode of incest victimization before age 18. The most frequent instigator was an uncle (25%), followed by the father (24%). Paternal sexual abuse involved more true incest (coitus or rape) and was more traumatic long-term. When adjusted for rates, however, stepfathers (a relatively small sample) were seven times more prone to incest victimization than biological fathers. In later years, the women who had been seriously incestuously abused as children tended to marry young and have children at an earlier age than average. They were also more prone to sexual abuse by husbands and others, and had higher divorce and separation rates--perhaps because they tended to be frightened by men and sexually skewed. Black families actually had a slightly lower incest-abuse rate than white; Spanish Americans were on the high side (20%) and Asians on the low (8%). Girls from Christian families were 50% more at risk than those from Jewish. Surprisingly, girls from higher income families were more frequently victimized than those from low income ones. Grimly, incest abuse appears to have trebled between 1908 and 1978 and probably is still on the rise. In sum: a disturbing and densely documented study (replete with judiciously selected case histories) of the underside of American family life.

Pub Date: May 20th, 1986
Publisher: Basic Books