Incest as a Dilemma

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Dr. Jane Nyutu PhD.
Counselling Psychology
Mind and Beyond Counselling Centre-Mount Kenya University

What is Incest

–This a sexual relationship between two people who are closely  related through blood. Incest is viewed as a pedophilic disorder. It might also happen between two adults who are  closely related and end up in marriage Sue and Sue et. al (2013). –Incest may be between father and daughter, cousins, sister and brother, mother and son, grandparents and children. –In some cases youths under influence of alcohol and drugs may  end up committing incest with their own  siblings, parents or grandparents. –However, mother son incest seem to be rare. Studies shows that sexual activities between siblings are relatively frequent. – Father –daughter incest onset is between six and eleven years old. Father daughter incest is exploitative in that the father  begins to favor the daughter more than other siblings. Mostly, daughters are vulnerable due to the fact that the parent is an authority figure and is the source of upkeep, and emotional needs Sue and Sue et al (2013).

Rates of incest in Kenya

–According to a report on gender based violence, in  every 160 defilement cases reported,  59  are incestuous cases. This report was conducted between 2018-2021 

–This shows that one in every 2.7 cases was incestuous.

Causes of incest

Causes/Why do people indulge in incestuous ties? –Money and power-money gives power to the powerless. Children are overpowered by the parent especially fathers over their daughter. The fact that they depend on them for emotional and physical needs. –Bad habits and  lack of value system –Unfavorable character –Mental illness and disorders –Maladaptive thinking –Deprived minds with inability to perceive positive insights –Freud  (1969) ,father of psychoanalysis suggests that at the age of 5 years, children develop conflicting feelings towards their parents (Oedipus complex) that might contribute to incestuous feelings as the children are in this delicate stage Faw (1989).

  • Influence of alcohol and drugs.
  • Maladaptive beliefs and myths
  • Breakdown of traditional morals and taboos.
  • Inhumane nature and ungodliness

Results of Incest

Victims of incest suffer from negative feelings such as:

–Guilt, shame/ embarrassment

–Loss of power by  the authority figure over the victim.

–To numb these feelings, the victims may start abusing alcohol and other drugs as they mature into adulthood .

–They may have sexual dysfunction  and psychiatric issues.

– The victim may encounter challenges  in getting married and raising own families.

–Stolen childhood innocence

–Shattered dreams

–Bottled/repressed anger and bitterness

–Anxiety, stress

–Children exposed to incest and maltreatment are prone to Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)  (Igelman et al 2006).

–Depression and suicide

Societal View on Incest

Why incest is condemned by some cultures:

–Incest is perceived as a taboo in almost all cultures.

–Some African communities perceive incest as evil, antisocial  behavior. Those who involve themselves in it are treated as abnormal, outcasts and sometimes they are even banished from society completely.

–In the Kikuyu society perpetrators faced thoroughly punished painfully through physical beatings, mockery, and fines.

–Children born out of incest were sometimes killed to wade away evil and please the “gods”.

–Some cultures advocate for babies out of incest to be killed or thrown away in the forest.

– Others abandon the children hoping that a good samaritan will adopt them for fear of stigma.

–Some communities believe that some children from incestious ties are born with ; mental/ psychological incapacities (cogenital malformation, recessive disorders, mild delays, or down syndrome)  and funny physical features (Bittles 1981).

Who is vulnerable to incest?

  • Young children and girls living with relatives either for upkeep or

 work especially from poor families and from rural set up.

  • Isolated children and youths due to family conflicts, absent parents,

seperation and divorce . Knox & Schacht (2008) suggests that children

may at times involve sexual exploitation, whereby an older brother

might coerce female siblings who are younger into nudity or sex. Research

 indicates that children who received sexual abuse report being abusive in their adult life.

Why dealing with incest is difficult

–The ties are mostly done in secret or concealed completely from others so they remain unnoticed and unresolved.

–Conservative culturural and retrogressive beliefs and myths.

–Ignorance where people fail to understand themselves neither  law of the land.

–Fear of negative reaction by the perpetrator.

–Getting away easily after committing the crime due to leniency

     of the family and community.

–Some accept the fine and fail to punish the perpetrator.

Illustration: Client X

–Client X  learnt that the  parents passed on when was barely 5 years. the client was raised up  by relatives. As the client joined college, raising tuition fee was difficult ….. a close relative offered to meet all education needs. The excitement did not last long when the relative demanded sexual favors before paying the fees. Due to  desperation, the client fell into this ugly snare and kept secret  but really affected the clients life emotionally and socially.

To make matters worse, the client later realized that incest is a serious taboo in their community and yet could not disclose this to anybody…”. This has resulted to psycho-social challenges such as lack of sleep, withdraway from family and friends, lack of drive, low-self-esteem and self pity, feelings of guilt, shame and hopelessness, anger and sadness among other neagtive feelings

Interventions for Incest Clients

–Psychological counselling with a proffessional /trained staff to address the stigma and negative feelings such as guilt, shame or embarrassment, anxiety and fear.

–Psychriatric intervention

–This helps the victim deal with trauma associated with the act.

–Social support from trusted family members and friends

–Psycho-education of pros and cons for incest and ways to deal with the retrogressive beliefs and cultural aspects associated with the vice.

–Supervision of children and youth

–Avoid staying with relatives who have negative habits and values.


–David.K& Caroline.S (2008). Choices in relationships. An Introduction to Marriage and the Family: 9th edition; Thomson Wadsworth, USA.

–Ryckman.M.R.(1989). Theories of Personality: 4th edition. Brooks/Cole; USA.

–Sue and Sue et al (2013). Understanding Abnormal Behavior: 10th edition: Wadsworth, USA.

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