Quick recap of the timeline:
- Colonial era: Surprising candor about incest as evidenced by number of reports in the paper, including cases involving middle-class and socially prominent men; civic outrage in favor of victims; packed courtrooms; death sentences and hard labor.
- After 1860’s: Steep decline in coverage, scapegoating of immigrant populations and African Americans. Denial of prevalence, disbelief of survivors, medical community discourages using presence of gonorrhea in victims as evidence, insisting that the vaginitis must be non-venereal.
- After discovery of gonococcus bacterium: Doctors insist that girls can contract gonorrhea from toilet seats. Focus shifts to mothers and their inattention to hygiene. Infected girls are socially ostracized as carriers of potential epidemics.
- 1940’s and 1950’s: Theories of Freud enter the popular culture. Reports of incest by girls are interpreted as fantasies based on their desires to have sex with their fathers. Kinsey insists that the damage from child sexual abuse comes from puritanical ideas in the culture, not from the rape itself.
- 1980’s: All hell breaks lose. The Women’s Liberation Movement empowers women to tell our stories, to trust each other and ourselves. Rape and incest come out of the closet. Epidemic of sexual abuse exposed. Huge boom in academic studies, self-help books, films, novels, memoirs dealing with incest. Feminists theorize that incest is a gender issue and a political issue. Father-daughter incest is framed as “the paradigm of patriarchy.”
Nope. That didn’t happen. There was a backlash. Amazingly enough it was fueled by pedophiles and perpetrators, and the culture sided with them.
In 1993, the New York Times Book Review ran a front page article by a woman about the “cult of victimhood” fostered by the women’s movement. She made reference to the “incest survivor machine.” During the 1990’s, feminism became the “f” word, as postmodernism took over the academy, declaring that “woman” was a social construct and that anyone relating it to anatomy or biology was something called an “essentialist.” “Essentialism” was framed as a mystical term, when, in fact, there has never been a more more tail-swallowing, self-referentially obfuscating philosophy than postmodernism. Interestingly enough, and NOT coincidentally at all, two of the founders of postmodernism, Foucault and Derrida, had taken public, pro-pedophilia stances for abolishing age of consent altogether in France.
Women began to believe that it was empowering to ignore gendered oppression. Something called the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) was established. It was founded in 1992 by Pamela and Peter Freyd, shortly after their daughter Jennifer privately confronted them with her memory of father-daughter incest. At least one member of their board had connections with pedophilic organizations. The scientific community has never endorsed or validated this so-called syndrome, and memory repression is a documented response to trauma, especially in childhood. Peter Freyd, interestingly, was an admitted alcoholic with a history of multiple hospitalizations and psychiatric care.
This foundation, with its pseudo-scientific theories, launched a huge media campaign. Carefully, they framed incest accusations as attacks on the families, protecting the fact that the perpetrators were overwhelmingly fathers. Not stopping there, they accused therapists of encouraging the revenge fantasies of their clients, or even suggesting and implanting memories. They began to sue. The fact that so many incest survivors were seeking help from therapists began to be used against them, “proof” that False Memory Syndrome was taking place.
They sued the authors of Courage to Heal, a book that has saved lives and given hope to thousands. They did not win the suit, but they were successful in getting legislation passed to limit insurance benefits for psychotherapy. They demanded that, in order to prove the validity of an incest memory, the survivor would need to remember every detail with complete accuracy. Not surprisingly, no survivor could meet their standards.
But… I want to add a postscript. Postmodernism is waning. The priesthood scandals (where boys constituted the majority of victims, by the way) have raised international outrage about the issue of child sexual abuse. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought the issue of PTSD to the forefront of veteran care, and with it, a validation of the impact of trauma. Military Sexual Trauma has been identified and been the subject of a Congressional investigation. (and my blog!) Sadly, little has changed, but it has been validated. The global economic and environmental crises are waking people up to the consequences of our rapacious attitudes of entitlement. Young women, saddled with staggering student loans and increasing pornographifying of the culture, are beginning to realize that ignoring their oppression is not empowering, but just foolish.
I encourage all of us to write the post-backlash chapter. To tell the truth. To confront perpetrators. To stop having Thanksgiving dinner, or Hanukkah, or Christmas, or Kwanzaa across the table from our rapists. To stop letting the enablers off the hook. Get the support to name it, confront it, demand accountability, and respond appropriately when that accountability is not forthcoming. Find good therapists, therapists who can identify Complex PTSD and who know how to treat it. Read Judith Herman, take responsibility for your health care. Arm yourself with knowledge, including knowledge of incest history, books like Unspeakable.
Never, ever let anyone or any voice in your head tell you that incest is not that big a deal, not that important in light of the world’s “real problems,” not significant in your own history. Never abandon your truth. Never abandon yourself. And, in the words of survivor Marilyn Van Derbur:
“We must say to every member of our society: If you violate your children, they may not speak today, but as we gather our strength and stand beside them, they will, one day, speak your name. They will speak every single name.”
Click here to read "Incest Denial Part 1"
Click here to read "Incest Denial Part 2"
Click here to read "Incest Denial Part 3"