Perpetrators of Incest
Patricia J. Long
Incest can be defined as any sexual contact, or behavior intended to be sexually stimulating, between persons who are biologically or legally related. This contact may include behaviors where no actual contact occurs (e.g., solicitations to engage in sexual activities, erotic material shown to a child) as well as all behaviors that do include sexual contact (e.g., fondling of the breasts and genitals, intercourse, and oral or anal sex). Recently, incest and childhood sexual abuse in general have gained recognition as problems of significant proportions.
Reviews of the literature on childhood sexual abuse indicate prevalence estimates ranging between 6 percent and 62 percent for females and from 3 percent to 31 percent for males ( Peters, Wyatt & Finkelhor 1986; Salter 1992). Further, members of the extended and nuclear family are frequently found to be the perpetrators of these victimizations. For example, Finkelhor ( 1979) found family members to be the perpetrators of 43 percent of the female victims in his sample and of 17 percent of the male victims. Other researchers typically find family members to be perpetrators in 20 percent to 30 percent of the sexual abuse cases studied ( Haugaard, cited in Haugaard & Reppucci 1988; Russell 1983).
Studies typically suggest that sibling sexual abuse is the most common form of incestuous behavior ( Finkelhor 1980; Lindzey 1967). Abuse by fathers, stepfathers, and other father figures, although not as common as sibling incest, appears to account for approximately 24 percent of intrafamilial abuse cases ( Russell 1983). Abuse by mothers has been thought to occur much more rarely ( Finkelhor & Russell 1984).