|| The Incest Perpetrator: A Family Member No One Wants
|| Anne L. Horton, Barry L. Johnson, Lynn M. Roundy,
|| Sage Publications © 1990
2111 West Hillcrest Drive
Newbury Park, California 91320
$35.00 (c) / $16.95 (p)
This 292 page edited book consists of 16 chapters written by a wide variety of authors.
The book focuses on the
incest offender and information necessary for responsible treatment. It is
divided into three parts — defining the problem, profiles and identification, and
treatment. Chapters cover topics such as the problems in defining incest,
reporting requirements and confidentiality in therapy, sexual abuse by
stepfathers, biological fathers, and noncustodial fathers, isolation as an
etiological dynamic, the grooming process, sibling incest, sexual abuse by
women, sexual addiction, community resources, offender identification, and
treatment issues for clinicians. As in many edited books the chapters are of
uneven quality with some being quite good and others of dubious value. The
editors of this volume have included a majority of chapters that do not
demonstrate an awareness of nor an adherence to some basic scientific values and
Several of the chapters are based on The Incest Perpetrator
Project, which collected information about incest perpetrators from volunteers
from different types of treatment programs. These included Parents
Sex Offenders Unit at Utah State
Prison, forensic mental health facilities, and
private agencies. The respondents filled out a 304 item questionnaire which was
the basis of the information gathered.
The book closes with a weak list of resource organizations
and a good index.
Much of this anthology is a repetition of old ideas and
programs, but some chapters present new ideas. For example, Chapter 8 on women
perpetrators of child sexual abuse discusses barriers to recognizing female child
sexual abuse. The author, Craig Allen, believes that major barriers are Freudian
beliefs about the incest taboo, feminist explanations of child sexual abuse as
male dominance and exploitation of women and children, and overgeneralization of
the empirical observation that female sexual abuse of children is rare. The
author points out that serious attempts to gather information about female
abusers are just beginning and recommends withholding judgment about such cases
until more is known.
The discussions in Chapters 2 (Susan and Frank Bolton) and 16 (Robert Kelly) on confidentiality issues and the duty to report
the difficulties for the clinician who is caught between the legal requirements
and desire to provide effective treatment. There is much confusion about what is
actually required legally, and Chapter 16 offers several recommendations. These
are sensitive and insightful presentations of unavoidable tensions for the
Chapter 5 by Jane Gilgun and Teresa Connor on isolation as a factor in sexual abuse presents an interesting
concept. Although the data comes from in-depth interviews with perpetrators and
consultations with clinicians rather than from an empirical study, the chapter
is thoughtfully written and is consistent with observations frequently made by
clinicians. It presents a good starting point for testing a hypothesis which
could prove helpful in treatment.
Jon Conte's introduction presents a good overview of the
problem and the current state of knowledge. He states that many of the currently
accepted concepts about incestuous offenders should be viewed cautiously as
untested theories. Unfortunately, some of the chapters which follow fail to heed
The major difficulty in this book is the repetition of
unsupported beliefs and myths about incest and sexual abuse in some of the
chapters. In Chapter 11 on professional and treatment issues for clinicians,
Lynn Roundy and Anne Horton state that "Recidivism is a fact of life with
this population" (p.180). In reality, studies about recidivism agree that
incest perpetrators, in contrast to other sexual offenders, have low recidivism
These authors also make a number of unsupported assertions
about religion. They claim that it is not uncommon for the clergy to deny that
the member of the congregation has abused a child and call the victim to
repentance for fabricating the allegations. They assert that perpetrators have
very rigid religious values (a claim also made in Chapter 12). Although the
authors acknowledge that these observations are not documented in the
literature, they are nevertheless presented as true.
They state that "professionals who treat incest are
subjected to negative feedback from a segment of the clinical community"
(p.171). There is no support offered for this claim, which we have never heard
before. They use Russell's figures on the prevalence of sexual abuse, which are
higher than anyone else's, to assert that "sexual abuse is common in
families" (p. 168).
Nodie Davis, Vicki Granowitz, and Deena Levi in Chapter 12
make the astonishing recommendation that "it is imperative that an
evaluation for the potential of incest be undertaken with virtually every
client" (p. 190). This means that even if clients have an entirely unrelated
presenting complaint they should be evaluated for their potential to be incest
offenders. This possibility "should remain in the therapist's thoughts ...
throughout the course of treatment." Were this suggestion to be seriously
considered and followed, it would most assuredly produce such a high rate of
false positives that unavoidable mischief would be done.
Several "guidelines" for determining that a family
or client is at high risk for incest are presented. These include personality
disorders, coming from a dysfunctional family, chemical dependency issues,
authoritarian discipline in the family of origin, dressing younger than the
chronological age, delayed or accelerated development of secondary sex
characteristics in adolescence, rigid religious back-grounds, loss of job or a
death in the family, being easily threatened or defensive.
Guidelines for assessing risk in children include insecurity,
perceptions of powerlessness, previous molestation outside the family, absence
of friendships and activities outside of the family, and physical or mental
handicaps. It is suggested that an important question in assessing the child is
"Is the child able to say 'no,' and is that 'no' respected" (p. 195).
Additional guidelines are presented for assessing relationships, and include
such things as communication characteristics, power imbalances, former abusive
relationships, and parenting behavior. The authors state that an affirmative
finding on any single factor is not in and of itself indicative of the
probability of incest. But the clinician should use these guidelines for
determining when a family is at high risk.
However, their criteria (only some are listed here) are so
inclusive that it is unlikely to find any client or family who failed to met
several. Also little or no empirical evidence is given to support the efficacy
or utility of these suggested guidelines. Such recommendations can only be based
on the assumption that incest is epidemic in our society. The danger of these
recommendations is that such a stance is likely to result in ready suspicion and
the inadvertent development of a false accusation.
Sexual addiction appears several places in the book. Patrick
Carnes devotes Chapter 9 to it and the concept is mentioned in several other
chapters. But nowhere is it acknowledged that this is a controversial concept
which does not enjoy general acceptance from experts in the field. The problems
with an addiction model applied to human behavior are not explored.
Kathleen Faller (Chapter 4) reports on her clinical
experience with 196 stepfathers, biological fathers, and noncustodial fathers
who sexually abused their children. Although half of the biological fathers and
stepfathers admitted to the abuse, only 20% of the noncustodial fathers did.
Since these cases were all "validated," the author assumes the abuse
was real and those who did not admit were denying. She therefore goes on to
discuss the characteristics of the abusing noncustodial fathers and the
hypothesized factors that resulted in their abusive behavior.
However, since there is no discussion of what is meant by
"validated" (i.e., substantiation by a social worker, the statement by
a child, suspicions of a caretaker or custodial parent, a finding by the justice
system, Faller's opinion, etc.) there is no way to evaluate her chapter. There is likely to be an indeterminate
number of false accusations included in her subjects, but with the information
she supplies, this cannot be assessed.
There is no attention given to false accusations in this
book. The impression is that this is not perceived as a serious problem.
example, Charlotte Shuler in Chapter 15 recommends that a child be referred to
therapy as soon as the incest is "discovered" and that the therapist
participate with the police in the early interviews. Such a stance assumes that
all allegations once made must be true. The potential of this policy for
iatrogenic harm to the child is ignored.
The book would have been better and have more value to the
clinician had all of the chapters adhered more rigorously to the empirical
data. As it stands now it has little to offer to the clinician who desires to grow
professionally and responsibly in the treatment of incest families,
perpetrators, and victims.
Reviewed by Hollida Wakefield and LeRoy Schultz.