Adolescent Female Survivors of Paternal Incest: A Biblical Perspective of Crisis Intervention

Introduction

Paternal incest is one of the most alarming experiences that a child can go through because it is a vice capable of causing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the victims. According to Krill (2015) it can cause life-defining changes in the behaviour of an individual and adversely affect their capacity to engage in constructive human relationships because it breaks one’s trust in others. Typically, a parent is everyone’s most trusted caretaker, especially when the individual is not of majority age. Adolescence is a delicate stage of human development because it is the point where curiosity is at its peak as one transitions from childhood to adulthood. When one falls victim to paternal incest, there are increased chances of such self-destructive tendencies as depression, isolation, perfectionism, mistrust, suicidal behaviour and substance abuse.

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First responders and counsellors have a critical role to play in intervening when the incest crisis strikes. Krill (2015) explains that such self-destructive tendencies are the victims’ way of asserting control over the high degree of helplessness created by the violation that is incest. In the world of academia, paternal incest has so many negative connotations, cultural, social, religious and even psychological. The topic of paternal incest among adolescents is a highly significant area of study because it has deep-rooted implications socio-cultural and ethical-religious implications for practice and research. The reality that paternal incest leaves the victim emotionally scarred, in some cases for life, is enough to warrant an inquest into the topic to shed light on some of the ways in which the affected populations can be helped in overcoming the ensuing traumatic experiences (Aldwin & Gilmer, 2013). Typically, any form of child abuse has far reaching effects.

However, the effects become even more severe when the perpetrator is a family member. In an incestuous relationship, the victim is likely to experience psychological damage with no chance to recover because they become estranged from one parent and live in an emotional roller-coaster characterized by episodes of mixed feelings and confusion (Lindberg & Distad, 1985). Unlike incest involving infants and children of tender ages, adolescents possess the capacity to process information and may sometimes find it difficult to reveal the abuse because of the mixed feelings – the innate love for their parent and the strong feelings of hatred, damage and mistrust toward people in general. Often, such mistrust is for a good reason because it arises are part of the victim’s defensive mechanism.

Mental health symptoms

Incestuous relationships and abuse vary significantly in nature and duration – with some experiencing a single incident to others going through many years of the torment. The duration of the experience depends on a broad multiplicity of factors, including the proximity of the underage victim and the perpetrator’s steps to secure the victim’s silence. Often times, the perpetrator is an older individual, such as in cases of paternal incest, and will use threats to secure silence (Sharaby, 2019). For the fear of her life and stability of the family, the adolescent victim may resort to silence, which in effect causes more harm than good. Since the victims are psychologically wounded, one of the primary aims of the first responders and the professional counsellors would be to mitigate the developmental consequences in the victims.

In addition to the physical injuries associated with incest, especially when the victim is a minor, there are some deep-rooted mental health issues that come with it. In the case of female adolescents that survive incest, it comes with such serious mental health implications as a sense of low self-worth, somatization, self-hatred, and low self-efficacy, a sense of contamination, shame, worthlessness, helplessness and pervasive interpersonal challenges (Rabinovitch et al., 2015). It is critical to study the characteristics of the adolescents affected by incestuous relationships because to them, sharing the experience may be inhibited by the fear of being shamed by others. Such mental health consequences manifest in self-destructive behaviours, some of which may continue into the victim’s adulthood. For instance, alcohol and drug abuse may continue into one’s future life because they emerge as coping mechanisms, or ways to combat the mental and psychological effects of the violation of their innocence by a parent, the most trusted caretaker.

Following the mistrust and feelings of insecurity, the life of a victim is affected adversely regarding their ability to create and sustain meaningful romantic relationships (Murat et al., 2015). The victim of incest may not be able to trust male partners, something that makes them vulnerable to unstable relationships characterized by mistrust and the anxiety that comes with high expectations of abandonment. A female survivor of incest may be unable to create beneficial alliances as they always somewhat expect to be abandoned by those that care about them. Ironically, their partners’ efforts to show compassion and care further asserts their fear of being abandoned, and may trigger some negative reactions that end up hurting their romantic relationships. In a nutshell, the mistrust that come after an incestuous incident may hamper the victim’s ability to engage in interpersonal connections because deep inside, they feel lonely and broken.  

Statistically, about 20 to 32 percent of adolescent victims of sexual abuse aged below 18 years of age are female. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been identified as the most common mental health outcome of sexual abuse, especially when the perpetrator is known to the victim (Kirschner, Kirschner & Rappaport, 1993). The PTSD is accompanied by re-experiencing episodes where the victim relives the ordeal through dreams and memories. Typically, the first responders as well as the professional helpers such as counsellors need to understand the reality that most victims will always portray signs of actively trying to avoid stimuli that they associate the sexual abuse with, which partly explains why they fall into problematic sexual relationships. They present serious sexual behavioural problems, and such externalizing traits as aggression and hyperactivity. The internalizing aspects of the victim’s reaction include depression, fear and anxiety (CDC, 2019).

It is critical to point out that the diagnostic features of incest in adolescents is highly individualized because while some may experience the resultant torment for many years, for others the trauma fades away in a few months. Some get off the distress in a short time and some, in extremely rare cases, may get no distress at all. The major complication in matters of incest spins around the reality that victims do not understand how to categorize incestuous abuse because to them it may not be rape for two reasons – the absence of force, and the familiarity with the perpetrator. In paternal incest, first responders need to understand that the most common short-term or immediate symptoms are such signs as confusion. In the long term, they exhibit signs of enduring patterns of impulsivity and instability, which most likely suggest borderline personality disorder (BPD) in female victims.

To identify potential victims of incest among adolescent females, a first responder may rely on some observable conditions. For instance, abused adolescents tend to be oppositional, defiant and aggressive. In some cases they may demonstrate extreme fear of adults, especially male adults due to the psychological trauma. Abused adolescent girls often exhibit behaviours that are characterized by acting out and being highly defensive and in some cases disruptive and destructive to both self and others (Berman, 2019). Studies have also indicated that adolescent girls that are sexually abused by their fathers may show tendencies of extreme risk taking and fearlessness, which could be accompanied by alcohol and substance abuse. Additionally, such teens tend to avoid physical contact, and may prefer to dress in overly concealing clothes even in warm weather.  Some may emerge as regressive low achievers incapable of creating effective peer relationships.

Best Practices in Crisis Intervention

In cases of child abuse, where paternal incest is a primary example, there are no specified first responders because in matters children, first response is a collective community concern. As such, anyone, including those that are not listed as mandated reporters can and should take immediate action to assist any adolescent girl that could be a victim of paternal abuse. When one learns about the possible abuse of an adolescent female by her father, biological or otherwise, they should first engage the victim in a conversation and try as much as possible to listen to them in a fashion that expresses compassion and shows that they care. When one is abused by such a trusted person as a father, they feel helpless and while they may have already gotten over the ordeal, they feel lonely and start developing feelings of self-loath. For this reason, they need assistance and care, which is best expressed through listening and letting the victim vent out their emotions and speak out their worries.

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In best practice, the first responders are charged with the duty to assist the victim access some legal assistance (Borneman, 2015). They can do this by contacting the local police department and reporting the matter, which should then be taken over by the authorities because as a first responder, one may not understand some of the legal complexities involved, including such concerns as the reliability of child witness testimonies. An alternative to police reporting would be to launch a report or open a case with the Child Protective Services (CPS), where the victim would be assisted to access medical attention, in cases where physical injuries are involved, and psychological help where shock and trauma are still evident in the affected individual (Tangonyire, 2019).

As a first responder, one would also want to help the teen victim initiate a process of self-help, which is one of the most professionally ratified ways of getting over the traumatic experience. The self-help assistance includes helping the teen female victim understand or reconstruct their role in the incestuous abuse by her father. Since it is generally agreed that first response is a community concern where children are involved, one of the best practices is to reach out to one or more of the mandated reporters, including teachers, ministers and registered psychologists, social workers, youth workers, caseworkers and childcare workers, and counsellors.

Scriptural Applications

The Hebrew Bible’s interpretation of incest is quite ambiguous, according to some experts in the social sciences. However, theological interpretations offer that the Bible strictly prohibits sexual relations among people that are related, especially by bloodline. The biblical views on this vice vary significantly between the various texts, with the Old Testament appearing a little tolerant on the matter, and the New Testament books strictly prohibiting it. Perhaps the most prominent examples of incestuous relationships in the bible are the stories in the early centuries of humanity, starting with the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. As a matter of common understanding, Adam and Eve were, according to the Bible the only first humans on earth. As such, their offspring had to intermarry and initiate sexual relationships among themselves to ensure the continuity of the human race. Inferentially, therefore, incest is a sin as old as the human race.

Another notable case of incest is the story of Lot and his two daughters as described and narrated in the book of Genesis 19:30-36. In the story of Lot, his daughters, upon realizing that the absence of men other than their father meant the end of their bloodline, tricked him into having sex with them and bringing forth offspring that would perpetuate their kin. In this case, however, it is important to appreciate the reality that one party, Lot, was not willing and did not consent to the sexual contact. As such, scholars have variously seen it as a case of incestuous rape. Another similar case in the Bible is the case of Amnon and his half-sister Tamar in the book of 2 Samuel 13. The story of Amnon and Tamar is another incestuous relationship in which one party, Tamar, was not willing to participate. Amnon tricked her into it and actually raped her. While it angered her blood brother Absalom, the Bible does not offer outright reproof for the actions of Amnon, who in reality raped his sister. However, Tamar’s view suggests that marriages among siblings is biblically permissible.

Back to the case of Lot, the daughters of Lot named their sons, who were born out of incest, Moab and Ben-Ammi which literally translate to ‘from the father’ and ‘son of my people’ respectively in Hebrew language. Here, one wonders whether or not God was in support of the incestuous acts involving his man Lot and his daughters. Another notable case of an incestuous relationship involving God’s chosen people is the story of Abraham and his wife Sarah, initially known as Sarai. In Genesis 20:12 Abraham says, “Besides, she really is my sister, the daughter of my father— though not the daughter of my mother— and she became my wife.” Abraham, the biblical Father of Faith got married to his half-sister, seemingly ratifying relationships between people related by blood.

In the second book of the old testament, Exodus 6:20, the bible says “Amram took as his wife Jochebed his father’s sister, and she bore him Aaron and Moses, the years of the life of Amram being 137 years.” Yet again, the bible presents incestuous relationships as acceptable because they brought forth some of God’s most instrumental men – Moses the deliverer of his chosen people from Egypt and Aaron who would be his spokesman on the mission. Still the holy book presents incest as a great sin and punishable iniquity, prescribing different punishments for the doers and those involved in the vice. For example, the book variously refers to the immorality as a sin punishable by exclusion from God’s covenant communities, childlessness and in some cases death.

The topic of incest is most elaborately addressed in the book of Leviticus 18: 6 – 18 where God strictly prohibits sexual relationships between people that are closely related. It prohibits sexual relationships between parents and their offspring, between people and their aunts and uncles, and also some in-law relations. Throughout verses 6 to 18 of the same chapter, the bible refers to the vice as an iniquity and something that’s wicked. In the book of Deuteronomy 27:23, the bible prescribes curses as a punishment for incestuous relationships.

Regarding the specific topic of this paper, the incestuous relationships between a father and their daughter, the Bible prohibits this connection in Leviticus 18: 7 and 18: 10 albeit inferentially. In other sections of the Bible, incest is strictly condemned, especially in the New Testament, and other sections of the later books of the Old Testament. For instance, the book of Ezekiel, in Chapter 22’s first verse, the holy book refers to incestuous relationships as an abomination. Apostle Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:1), describes incest as something that ultimately defiles the church and calls upon all Christians to condemn it.

While most critics will argue that the bible is not clear on the issue of incest, it can be argued that such thinkers only want to interpret the holy book in abstract terms. However, a deeper and keener examination of the Bible would reveal God’s view of incest. Foremost, most of the incestuous biblical relationships took place in the pre-law period, a time when the human genetic code was rather pure. In the post-law period, the genetic makeup of human beings had been significantly interfered with and ‘contaminated’ to warrant the prohibition of incest. Moreover, just like the earthly laws, the biblical laws do not apply retrospectively, hence cannot be applied to condemn the pre-law acts of incest. Therefore, the bible is not inconsistent on this matters; it strictly prohibits incest. Hence, those fathers that have sex with their daughters are sinful and extremely immoral. Incest is not only immoral but also illegal in modern times.

Cultural Considerations

In dealing with the issue of paternal incest involving adolescent females, a broad assortment of cultural considerations come into play. First, it is important to note that all world cultures are, to a great extent, influenced by ancient cultures, including the biblical societies and the social order of many communities in antiquity (Júnior, 2017). For instance, the roman laws designed by such leaders as Augustus remain influential in many of the world cultures today regarding the issue of incest and other forms of sexual immorality. Different cultures treat sex between two adults in consanguinity and familial affiliation differently, with some strictly prohibiting it on the basis of immorality, and others finding it highly permissible. However, it is important to understand that even in those cultures and jurisdictions where paternal incest is considered illegal, consensual sex between a father and their adult daughter is considered and treated as a victimless crime.

However, it is universally agreed that sexual relationships between two people in consanguinity of the first degree is strictly wrong. For instance, sex between a father and his daughter or a brother and a sister related by blood in the first degree is wrong and morally unacceptable. The incest taboo is common in almost all world cultures. The differences come in only with regard to the degree of relationship between the members involved. In the same spirit of the incest taboo, children born out of incestuous relationships are considered illegitimate offspring, and may be subjected to subordinate treatment in different world cultures. On a general scale however, in the Christian light, incest is a serious violation of God’s will as expressed in the Levitical code.

In some cultures, especially the eastern cultures, most of which are influenced by the Islamic religion, incestuous relationships involving people related on the third degree are highly permissible and may not be considered immoral at all. Such differences are important to consider because such matters as marriage and family are highly influenced by culture and other anthropological aspects than by law. In the past, in such civilizations as Egypt, incestuous relationships were allowed in the ruling families to ensure the perpetuity of the royal bloodline. Such important cultural heritages continue to be acceptable in certain communities across the world. However, despite all these cultural differences and considerations, the age of the woman in a father-daughter relationship is a critical factor to consider because underage sex is a crime. When the father is of majority age and the daughter is in her teens and below legal age, the crime is looked at differently because she is considered a minor incapable of informed consent.  

Conclusion

In conclusion, paternal incest involving adolescent girls is highly immoral and repulsive, even illegal. It is capable of inducing such life-changing conditions as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD) in the affected young women. It hampers one’s ability to engage in sustainable romantic relationships, and exposes the young victim to life-defining trauma, which may adversely influence the affected person’s ability to trust others. Incestuous relationships involving fathers and their daughters would be considered highly repulsive in many cultures because they involve people related on the first degree, something that has been proven to result in children with biological and psychological disorders. Victims of paternal incest portray such symptoms as withdrawal, unwarranted aggressiveness, isolation, perfectionism, anxiety, depression and extra-sensitivity to the reality of this world. The bible, particularly in the Levitical code, strictly prohibits incestuous relationships including paternal incest, terming them as sinful iniquities punishable by social exclusion and even death. The bible, in both the new and old testaments strictly vilifies incest regardless. However, because of what is referred to as the Patriarchal Circumstance, the bible permits incest in the pre-law epoch because Adam and Eve were the only human on earth. Regarding culture, there are various interpretations of the act of incest, with some seeing it as permissible, especially for those related to the third degree. Overall, incest is repulsive, illegal, risky and primitive, and should be discouraged at all costs. First responders have a primary role to play in helping the affected persons find stability and overcome the effects of the vice.

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