Columnist: Incest — too often all in the family

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 3, 2015

By Glenn Dowell

Contributing columnist

Incest is without question, one of society’s worst crimes.

In its strictest definition, states an incest survivor, “incest is sexual intercourse between people who are too closely related to marry.” It also includes other sexual acts, such as fondling, molestation and exhibition, since these, too, leave deep and lasting emotional scars.

Abuse by step-parents or close family friends also falls into this category because of the child’s trusting relationship with them. Many molesters appear to be upstanding members of their community and church.

I worked with a friend for many years who was highly regarded in his church. He was also a school psychologist who had unsupervised access to special needs children.

He was known to be willing to give a ride to children who needed transportation home and to purchase gifts for children on his caseload. We were frequent visitors in each other’s homes.

He lived in a rural area, far removed from the city, where he was able to practice his recreational trade as a beekeeper, providing me with honey from their hives, which to me was better than that I purchased from the stores.

My friend whom I will call Charles, however, held a secret. He was a pedophile and sexual abuser. When I learned his secret, I was devastated. Here was a man whom I had allowed in my home, around my own children, in some cases, an adult family member being present.

I discovered his secret after the death of my mother. You see, for several months after her death, I isolated myself from my friends, finding comfort only in my memories of her while she lived.

After my depression related to her death had subsided, the first person I called was Charles. I actually attempted communicating with him several times without success. Each time I called a family member would politely inform me that my friend was “away and unavailable.”

In frustration, I finally called and insisted that they tell me what was happening with my friend. Charles’ adult son finally intimated to me that, “Glenn, my father sexually abused my 15-year old daughter, and the family prosecuted him.”

He went on to say that his father had actually sexually abused his daughter over a two-year period of time. The son went on to say that he still loved the father, but the current distance between them can never be corrected or changed.

I discovered that the daughter was in treatment and that the trauma caused by the father would take years to heal. In essence, he emphasized, he no longer considered my friend, Charles, as his father.

Incest, sometimes a family affair

Incest crimes such as the one committed by my friend Charles, sadly, go unreported. A few years ago, in a small county in northeast North Carolina, parents along with their six sons ranging in age from 19 to 27, were charged with a number of crimes related to the alleged sexual abuse of their 16-year-old sister.

The sheriff said the alleged abuse began when the girl was 4 years old and continued until she was almost 15.

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Charges against the brothers ranged from rape to sexual assault, according to the sheriff in that county. The men’s parents, John Jackson, 65, and Nita Jackson, 54, face charges of felony child abuse.

“Part of the investigation revealed that, at one point, the mother observed some of this activity and never did anything about it,” the sheriff said of the charges against the parents (

The extent of incest is not known. What we do know is that it is difficult for families to report to authorities when inappropriate sexual behavior occurs among or between family members.

The full extent of this problem, even today remains hidden. Of the known sexual abuse, 75 percent is committed by the children’s own parents.

The victims are usually girls between 8 and 12, with 20 percent under 7. There are also many young boys abused by both men and women, with increasing incidents occurring in our schools and churches.

One girl out of four and one boy out of 10 will be sexually assaulted at least once before the age of 18 — and for those trapped in the nightmare of incest, the average period of abuse is seven years.

The hurt and long-term effects are understandably alarming. In recent studies, we know that among prisoners and prostitutes is a strange relationship characterized by having been sexually abused as children.

For a long time, until a few years ago, I operated under the assumption that a child resulting from incest would be retarded or externalize behavior that would clearly indicate the need for psychological intervention. I was familiar with the practice of some cultures marrying among relatives but never personally encountered an individual who was the offspring of an incestuous relationship.

In a metro-Atlanta school system I was introduced to a 15-year-old young lady who was doing quite well academically, and appeared to be progressing normally through adolescence. Even though there was an appearance of this healthy exterior, someone in her family decided that she would enter counseling at an early age to avoid potential social adjustment or mental problems.

You see, this young lady was not personally assaulted, she was the daughter of her mother’s father. This made her grandfather her father as well. The person who gave birth to her as a result of this incestuous relationship, has to live with the fact that she is both mother and sister to the child.

No one can truly predict what is going to happen to this young lady in the future. When I met her, she seemed to be full of life, concerned only about the typical problems facing teenagers.

Her case, however, reveals that incest and the molestation of our children should never be all in the family.

Glenn Dowell is an author and LaGrange native who currently lives in Jonesboro. He may be reached at