The word “incest” is often thrown around when discussing an ongoing or a close family relationship.
When that word is used in a discussion about a child or a sibling, that child or sibling may be in a relationship with a parent or sibling, or they may have been in a romantic relationship or committed a sexual crime.
But the term itself, often with no evidence to support its use, can be problematic.
When people hear “incident,” the term can be interpreted as referring to a sexual or emotional relationship that has been, or will continue to be, ongoing.
In many cases, the term implies sexual or romantic violence, and can lead to a potentially traumatizing and violent situation for the child involved.
A study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior and published last year by the American Psychological Association found that while the term “incidence” can be a common and often-used term to describe sexual violence and abuse, the researchers found that it was inaccurate.
“We looked at 1,837 online articles on incest, and we found that only 18% of the cases were investigated and identified as incestuous,” study author Jessica G. Lopes-Gomez, a psychologist at the University of Southern California, said in a statement.
“In other words, when the person talking about incest is not in a serious relationship or is not a parent, they are not experiencing the actual physical violence or the emotional abuse.”
The researchers found the term’s use in the context of a relationship, when it could lead to an inaccurate understanding of the nature of sexual abuse.
“When a person says they are ‘involved’ in a sexual relationship, it is more often than not referring to the sexual activity itself, and not to the relationship in general,” Lopes Gomez, the study’s lead author, told The Washington Post.
“This can be dangerous for both the child and the parent who is perpetrating the abuse.”
What can I do if I am sexually abused as a child?
Sexual abuse can happen to children and teens, but it is often a complex, nuanced experience that can impact how a person reacts to sexual and emotional abuse.
When sexual abuse occurs in a child’s life, it can have long-lasting impacts.
Loes Gomez and colleagues found that about 30 percent of sexually abused children had experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives, and the rate increased with each year of age.
The researchers believe this is because sexual abuse affects children differently than adults.
“Our findings show that in children, trauma is more likely to occur at a younger age than adults because of the smaller number of years between childhood and adulthood,” Loes-Gómez said.
“It is important to remember that it is not the same as being sexually abused by a caregiver.”
How do I know if I have been sexually abused?
Sexual or emotional abuse can affect how you respond to sexual or other intimate physical, emotional or sexual activity.
The trauma that can occur may include feelings of helplessness and a sense of powerlessness, as well as a sense that the person involved is a threat to you or others.
“These emotions are often triggered by witnessing, or being involved in, abuse, as the child becomes aware of the abuse and is thus vulnerable to being sexually or emotionally abused,” Lows-Gommas said.
The emotional distress can often become so intense that a person’s ability to function in daily life can be impacted.
If you or a loved one is sexually abused, you should seek out professional help.
“There are many steps that a survivor can take to help their trauma, and they are important to make sure that they have the support they need to do so,” Lones Gommas added.
“The more resources a survivor has in place, the more likely they are to seek help and the more successful their recovery will be.”