Social Factors in the Occurrence of Incestuous Abuse
Historically, most researchers and other writers on incest have been psychologists. Hence most previous attempts to understand the causes of incest have focused on family dynamics and psychopathology rather than social factors (e.g., Forward and Buck 1978; Meiselman 1978; Groth 1979; Mrazek and Kempe 1981; Giaretto 1982). With the exception of David Finkelhor, sociologists have, for the most part, ignored the subject altogether. Feminist scholars, on the other hand, share a perspective inherently more attentive to social factors--particularly those related to patriarchal institutions (e.g., Armstrong 1978; Butler 1978; Rush 1980; Herman 1981; Nelson 1982).
This chapter examines the relevance of social factors to the occurrence of incestuous abuse. Emphasis is on those factors about which others have theorized: the victim's family of origin, urban versus rural upbringing, social class, race and ethnicity, and religious upbringing. Along with evaluation of existing theories, some of the risk factors for incest victimization are explored.
The most startling finding to emerge from our survey data on social factors is that girls reared in high-income families were more frequently victimized by incest than girls in lower-income families. To my knowledge, this is the first study to report such a finding; it contradicts prevalent prejudices as well as previous research. The fact that it is based on the first large-scale probability household sample gives it particular validity and credibility.
Our other findings are less dramatic than this one; but it is important to bear in mind that discovering an absence of associations between back-