What is incest?
Incest refers to sexual acts between relatives. The type of incest that people are most worried about is that between a parent and a child. 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?
What are signs of incest?
Signs of incest may include:
- having vaginal or rectal bleeding, pain, itching, swelling or discharge
- having trouble walking or sitting
- being depressed or withdrawing from friends or family
- being very secretive
- either avoiding or being unusually interested in things of a sexual nature, acting sexual, or drawing sexually related pictures
- having sleep problems or nightmares
- having stomach pain, bedwetting, urinary tract infection, or a sexually transmitted disease
- refusing to go to school
- saying that their bodies are dirty or damaged, or being afraid that there is something wrong with them in the genital area
- trying to run away
- trying to commit suicide
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.
What I do to help?
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.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-10-29
Last reviewed: 2009-12-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes
available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical
evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.