Quick quiz: What life-altering condition impacts more Americans annually than AIDS, cancer, homophobia, the mortgage crisis, and gun violence, combined?
The answer is child sexual abuse, according to this must-read article by Mia Fontaine in The Atlantic, “America Has an Incest Problem“. If that wasn’t your guess, that’s no surprise. Politicians rarely mention it and the media mostly covers cases where the perpetrator is not a family member, because true investigation would implicate a significant percentage of the population. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
…One in three-to-four girls, and one in five-to-seven boys are sexually abused before they turn 18, an overwhelming incidence of which happens within the family. These statistics are well known among industry professionals, who are often quick to add, “and this is a notoriously underreported crime.”…
…Given the prevalence of incest, and that the family is the basic unit upon which society rests, imagine what would happen if every kid currently being abused—and every adult who was abused but stayed silent—came out of the woodwork, insisted on justice, and saw that justice meted out. The very fabric of society would be torn. Everyone would be affected, personally and professionally, as family members, friends, colleagues, and public officials suddenly found themselves on trial, removed from their homes, in jail, on probation, or unable to live and work in proximity to children; society would be fundamentally changed, certainly halted for a time, on federal, state, local, and family levels. Consciously and unconsciously, collectively and individually, accepting and dealing with the full depth and scope of incest is not something society is prepared to do.
In fact society has already unraveled; the general public just hasn’t realized it yet. Ninety-five percent of teen prostitutes and at least one-third of female prisoners were abused as kids. Sexually abused youth are twice as likely to be arrested for a violent offense as adults, are at twice the risk for lifelong mental health issues, and are twice as likely to attempt or commit teen suicide. The list goes on. Incest is the single biggest commonality between drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, teenage and adult prostitution, criminal activity, and eating disorders. Abused youths don’t go quietly into the night. They grow up—and 18 isn’t a restart button.
How can the United States possibly realize its full potential when close to a third of the population has experienced psychic and/or physical trauma during the years they’re developing neurologically and emotionally—forming their very identity, beliefs, and social patterns? Incest is a national nightmare, yet it doesn’t have people outraged, horrified, and mobilized as they were following Katrina, Columbine, or 9/11…
For Massachusetts residents seeking healing from sexual violence, I recommend the Survivor Theatre Project, a free workshop combining performance art, therapy, and activism. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) website includes a list of other support groups in each state.