We are living in a complex and highly sophisticated society in which sexual intercourse is often taken for granted not only among individuals unknown to each other, but even between family members and close relatives. Incidents of incest, defined as “having sexual relations or activity with close family members”, are common today all over the world, but not often reported. That presents a dilemma.
Incest is not only a taboo but also illegal. Different kinds of incest exist – one is when a father and daughter, or step father and step daughter engage in sexual relationship. This kind of incest has been the most reported worldwide. But in Nigeria, incest between fathers and daughters is hardly reported because nobody wants such a story to be heard outside the family.
Incest in Nigeria is kept often as a “family secret”, not to be reported to the relevant authorities.
However, some fathers and stepfathers abuse their daughters and stepdaughters on regular basis, while victims are unable to do anything about it. Even when a mother knows what is going on, she tries to put an end to it in her own way, but rarely reports the matter to the authorities, for fear of being stigmatized.
Sex between siblings is another kind of incest that is common but rarely reported. Little children are fond of practising what they see adults do. Often times, they imitate what they watch on television when adults kiss or have sex. So parents must monitor their kids and the kind of films they watch while they are around and block such films or video from their children when they are not at home.
There have been instances where teenage or adult siblings fall in love with one another and get involved in sexual relationship without the knowledge of their parents. Even when the parents are aware, there is little or nothing that they can do to stop it.
A youngman (names withheld) involved in incest confessed, saying, “You can’t help whom you fall in love with, it just happens. I fell in love with my sister and I am not ashamed of it. I only feel sorry for mom and dad.”
But the question is whether the man’s excuse is morally justified. We can decide who to fall in love with if we exercise self control, because we are in charge of our actions and emotions, not the other way round.
Our investigation showed it is very difficult for girls and women to report cases of incest in their families, either as victims or as eye witnesses for fear of being stigmatized. Family members often insist on solving the problem, but time has proved they lacked the will to tackle it.
The judicial system is not helping either, because such cases are left to die due to lack of diligent prosecution. The case may drag on for years, then forgotten, frustrating victims from seeking justice for those who are even courageous enough to approach the authorities. At the end, the abuser goes unpunished while the victim returns, depressed, discomforted, hopeless.
Incest destroys relationship in the family, especially between the abuser and the victim; the victim may become loose and promiscuous and could end up in prostitution.
Incest the risk of teenage or adolescent pregnancy, causes depression and intense guilt, can lead to drug and alcohol abuse by victims.
Social research studies showed that most societies regard sexual relations between close family members as not only a taboo, an affront against decency, an abomination, but also illegal. “Incest occurs everywhere even though people won’t admit to partaking in it,” said a university don.
Some researchers argued that in certain circumstances, incest is a necessity while multiple studies showed that offsprings of distant relatives are actually healtheir than the general population. Because there is usually more of an evolutionary advantage to diversifying the gene pool, therefore incest is not very common in species who practice sexual reproduction.
But where there is no natural advantage, to genetic diversity, incest still exists. An evolutionary biologist at Bowdoin College in Maina, USA, Dr. Nathaniel Wheelwright, who focuses on sexual reproduction, described asexual reproduction to LiveScience as the “ultimate incest” because an organism is breeding with itself.
“You can still see species asexually reproducing, or cloning themselves, in situations where there is no advantage to (sex)”, Wheelwright explained, “and you can see species that commit incest where there is no penalty to inbreeding.”
What Draws Some People To Incest
It is believed that people have a biological defense against close forms of incest, since there are the cases most likely to end in genetically compromised offsprings. LiveScience reported that Finnish sociologist, Edward Westermarck, suggested that growing up in the same house puts people off from developing sexual feelings. This is so even in cases where children are not directly related. When close incest does occur, that is, sexual relations between first relations like brother and sister or father and daughter, it is more likely due to a psychological factor than a biological attraction. Genetic attraction occurs when two relatives who have been seperated for a long time in their lives meet for the first time and experience intense emotional attraction. According to a report, this occurs in around 50% of reunions between close relatives separated at birth. “These people regress to a very early stage of development. The relationship is sensual, but we don’t call it ‘romance’ or being ‘in love’ when it’s breastfeeding, cradling, and stroking, or when it’s a mother and baby gazing into one another’s eyes,”explained psychotherapist Joe Soll.
According to him, this jump to incest is most common in brother – sister relationships, although it’s unknown why. According to one brother and sister relationship, the intense attraction is rooted in their physical resemblance.
“It’s like kissing myself, “ a woman who goes by the name ‘Rachel’ spoke of her intimacy with her brother ‘Shawn’.
In general, inbred children (born by incest sexual relations) exhibit lower intelligence and physical strength and get sick more often compared to their non-inbred counterparts. The risk for life-threatening diseases and deformities among inbred children is relatively higher.
Our genes are responsible for essentially every part of who we are. Most of our genes are either beneficial or largely neutral, but a small number of genes usually carry serious health consequences known as “autosomal recessive diseases.”These include cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, Tay-sachs disease and albinism. In small gene pools, the chances of offspring inheriting the two recessive genes needed to express these conditions increases.
For example, first cousins would have a 12.5% of having a child with one of these disorders.
Hence Tay-Sachs, a genetic disorder that retards mental, physical action, being most prevalent in some population trends of Jewish origin, and Puerto Rico having the highest density of albinism in the world, a US research institute reported.
When you have an even smaller gene pool, such as two first relatives, the chances of inheriting these recessive conditions may go up to 50/50. A 2008 study on 48 cases of incest found that the risk for birth defects is around 2% in the general population but rises to only 4% between first cousins.
Research shows that 46% of children who are raped are victims of family members (Langan and Harlow, 1994)
The majority of American victims (6%) are raped before the age of 18; furthermore, an astounding 29% of rape occurred when the victim was less than 11 years old. Also 11% of rape victims are raped by their fathers or step fathers and another 16% are raped by their relatives (National Centre for Victims of Crime and Crime Victims Research and Treatment Centre, 1992).
The Study of a nationally representative sample of state prisoners serving time for violent crime in 1991 showed that, of those prisoners convicted of rape and sexual assault, two-thirds victimised children and almost one third of the victims were children or step children of the assailant (Greenfield, 1996).
In a study of male survivors of child sexual abuse, over 80% had a history of substance abuse, 50% had suicidal thoughts, 23% attempted suicide and almost 70% received psychological treatment. About 31% had violently victimised others (Lisak, 1994)
There was also the Bible story about incest in which Lot, a just and righteous man who got drunk and impregnated his virgin daughters. “Come, let us make our father drink wine and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. And they made their father drink wine that night; and the first born went in and lay with her father, and he perceived not when she lay down n or when she arose. The younger daughter did same. Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.”Genesis 19:32-36.