Tag Archives: incest

How do you write about something that people are afraid to see? How do you expose an undermining, but insidious, practice? How do you change peoples’ minds? How does a civilization heal from the wounds of abuse?

Global research on non-consensual sex and teenage pregnancy found that cultural prioritization of male sexual pleasure contributed to the rate of teenage pregnancy. Studies showed that young women are subject to emotional pressure and manipulation to consent to sex, and experience high levels of sexual violence including coercive control that limits a teenage girl’s ability to retain autonomy over her sexual intimacy or her use of contraception.

The international evidence found direct links between teenage pregnancy and non-consensual sex with two strong predictors:

1. history of childhood sexual abuse and;
2. current intimate partner violence.

The study concluded that the cultural norm of a male’s sense of entitlement is directly related to teenage pregnancy rates.

Tami Boehle-Satterfield, MSW, LCSW-C, NBBCH, HTP, a licensed psychotherapist in Boulder Colorado at has challenged herself in 2016 to post weekly about the unpopular topic of abuse. Learn more about Tami at


How do you write about something that people are afraid to see? How to you expose an undermining, but insidious, practice? How do you change peoples’ minds? How does a civilization heal from the wounds of abuse?

It can be challenging to speak about the experience of sexual abuse. Many people who have been sexual abused are not able to speak about it as it happens. Many people wait years to speak of it, some people never reveal it, and others can’t remember the abuse itself until they are well into adulthood.

Many people who have suffered sexual abuse experience a life of generalized anxiety, fear, depression, difficulty with intimate relationships, difficulty trusting themselves or the world around them. Studies show that they are at an increased risk for drug or alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity. Unfortunately, families often take advantage of the abused’s compromised mental health and leverage it as an indicator of the abused’s character, as opposed to the symptomatology of the abuse suffered.

Even within families where sexual abuse has occurred, each family member will cope uniquely with the direct or indirect effects of abuse. Sadly, mothers, when not the abusers themselves, often protect the sexual abuser over the abused, even when the abused is their own child. “According to Martens and Associates (2011) 90% of women in relationships where a family member abuses their child were also sexually abused as children. Data collected from the sexual abuse treatment centers associated with Martens and Associates states that 65% of women who were sexually abused also became offenders. Women often sexually abuse during teen and early 20’s and then they usually stop. Mathews, F. (1996) also states that many self report studies show a high percentage of men say they were sexually abused by women. He adds that a high proportion of rapists, sex offenders and sexually aggressive men state they were also sexually abused by women when they were young. If a woman was abused and hasn’t dealt with the abuse, it will be significantly more difficult for her to believe, help and support her daughter if her daughter discloses abuse because her daughter’s abuse will trigger memories of her own abuse. If the mother was not only abused, but also became an offender, she is even less likely to believe her daughter as she in not only in denial of her own abuse but also her own offending.” (Sabrina Trobak, B.ED., M.A.C.P., R.C.C.)

Because of the myriad of coping  and defense mechanisms utilized by individual family members, the collective family story may not contain the narrative of abuse. Within the system of family silence there is a great deal of distortion about what really has happened in the family. The abused often protects the abuser in order to: 1. Honor the fictional family narrative of a healthy family, 2. To protect the abuser from social judgement, and
3. Out of fear of family rejection.

It is never to late to break the silence.  Breaking the silence is the first step towards healing.  Speak your mind about sexual abuse.  Feel free to say out loud that it is, without a doubt, detrimental to humanity.

Tami Boehle-Satterfield, MSW, LCSW-C, NBBCH, HTP, a licensed psychotherapist in Boulder Colorado at has challenged herself in 2016 to post weekly about the unpopular topic of abuse. Learn more about Tami at



artwork by johnnamusing

How do you write about something that people are afraid to see? How to you expose an undermining, but insidious practice? How do you change peoples’ minds? How does a civilization heal from the wounds of abuse?

Sexual abuse is a common experience for boys and girls. Let me repeat these somber words, sexual abuse is a common experience for boys and girls. One more time, sexual abuse is a common experience for boys and girls. 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused, some statistics site higher incidences. With such numbers, there is a very good probability that a potentially protective adult will have a personal experience with sexual trauma. Without restoration of the abused’s traumatized system, this man or woman may struggle to cope. Their ability to protect another from abuse may be limited by post traumatic symptomolgy. Or worse they may develop defense mechanisms that promote practices of abuse in an effort to normalize their experience or process their rage.

The familial cycle of abuse is perpetual unless interrupted. Interrupt the cycle of abuse. Ask, “Did someone hurt you?” Ask,”How can I help?”

Tami Boehle-Satterfield, MSW, LCSW-C, NBBCH, HTP, a licensed psychotherapist at has challenged herself in 2016 to post week about the unpopular topic of abuse. Learn more about Tami at


How do you write about something that people are afraid to see? How to you expose an undermining, but insidious practice? How do you change peoples’ minds? How does a civilization heal from the wounds of abuse?

Incest is sexual contact without informed consent between individuals who share a bloodline. It is a symptom of extreme family dysfunction centered around distortions regarding the meaning of love, affection, and care. Incest propagates in family systems without healthy boundaries concerning equanimity in family power dynamics and age appropriate experiences and responsibilities. The research of Maddock and Larson proposes 4 catagories of incest:

• Affection-based: the incest provides closeness in a family otherwise lacking in nurture and affection. There is an emphasis on the specialness of the relationship, within which otherwise unavailable caring is given and received.

• Erotic-based: the family atmosphere is one of chaotic pansexuality, and it is not uncommon for many members to be involved. Its norm is the erotization of relationships. The term “polyincest” is often used to describe such multiple perpetrator situations.

• Aggression-based: the incestuous acts involve the perpetrator’s sexualized anger. The perpetrator vents his or her frustration and conflicts on a vulnerable individual, and physical mistreatment is often involved.

• Rage-based: the perpetrator is hostile and may be overtly sadistic. There may be great danger to the victim.

Learn more at:

Are you a mandated reporter? Some states require all residents to assume the legal responsibility to report abuse or suspected abuse. Abuse may include neglect alongside all other types of abuse. Revealing abuse is the first step in interrupting the cycle of abuse. Make it your business to report abuse.

Tami Boehle-Satterfield, MSW, LCSW-C, NBBCH, HTP, a licensed psychotherapist at has challenged herself in 2016 to post week about the unpopular topic of abuse. Learn more about Tami at


I woke up last month to find someone had slipped a novel into my mail slot. The text on the dust jacket got my attention: Ruth, now in her “twilight . . . looks back on a harrowing childhood and on the unaccountable love and happiness that emerged from it.” I jumped in. Near the end of the book I came to this line: “If I can’t ever tell anyone the true story . . . then no one will ever know me.”

I hung on to those words all day.

I happened to be writing an essay about my life and the self-blame I’d long carried about having had cancer. But then I stopped, snagged in that very same way as when I had come to Ruth’s admonition. Would I include a certain seven words?

“I had been molested as a child.”

I don’t believe in coincidences. I thought there was a reason why I couldn’t let go of novelist Carrie Brown’s prescient sentence just as I was trying to write my “true story” for the very first time.

Getting to the point where I could consider putting those seven words down on paper had taken a lifetime. I’d had some bad starts. In 1989, when I was 32 years old, I confided my secret to one of my closest friends, who in turn revealed to me that a recent rape had triggered memories of having been molested by her grandmother. Within the year, with her own secret bleeding into her psyche, my friend — only 26 — took her life.

Soon after, I made another attempt at disclosure, confiding in a new boyfriend, who seemed to love and accept me despite the stained soul that I saw in the mirror. But he betrayed me: He cheated on me, and when I moved out he tried to blackmail me with my secret. To my horror, he sent a postcard (a postcard!) to my office announcing a meeting of sexual abuse survivors at my apartment. The so-called invitation, he threatened, would also be mailed to my entire family — outing me as a victim — unless I agreed to move back in with him.

It got worse, as my ex’s bluster turned into a death threat, and I had to make a decision about what to do. I’ve been good at many things in my life, but standing up for myself hasn’t been one of them. This time, though, I overcame the terror, stood my ground and took him on, starting with a police order of protection. He flinched and disappeared from my life.

Once again I was alone with my secret, which now proved too much for me. I made an appointment with the psychotherapist I’d seen at age 23, when I was just coming out 12 years earlier. For several appointments I dutifully went to his office but couldn’t answer the question: “Why are you here?”

Finally, this is what I wrote down and then read out loud to him:

“As much as I have tried, I can’t actually say to you what I need to without reading the words from this paper.. . . I’m afraid to read this because in telling you the story it will become real. But, I need to become real. I’m ready.”

I read to him the details of what my paternal grandfather did to me as a young boy, ending with “I don’t know where all of that fear went. It just stayed inside me. I buried it that quickly and that perfectly.”

I continued in therapy and made quiet disclosures to a few of my closest friends, but it didn’t feel like enough.

I had dreams, terrible ones, like the one in which my 8-year-old self was in class and my grandfather entered the room seeking a victim. In the dream, he chose my real-life friend Charlotte, who stood up and said, “No, I won’t go with you.” When my turn came, no such words came from me, reminding me of the hauntingly accusatory saying: “There are no victims, only volunteers.” I still thought it was my fault.

Over two decades, I talked to those friends about revealing more — but there was no real reason to. Why? My grandfather was dead. I was married. I didn’t need anything from anyone.

Until recently, that is, when I realized I did need something, when it suddenly seemed wrong not to disclose the truth. Maybe it was actress Ellen Page’s coming-out statement (“I am tired of lying by omission”) or Dylan Farrow’s accusation of sexual abuse against Woody Allen (which he has denied). I’d previously come out as gay and I’d talked and written about having had cancer. Shedding a skin had always made a positive difference in how I felt about myself and in deepening my relationships.

My friend and confidante, Amy, wrote me: “You’re tired of holding your secret, you want it to come out and you’ll deal with whatever fallout there may be. It’s time.”

I told my sister, then my brother, both of whom instinctively supported me. Finally, I went to see my parents, both in their 80s and not in the best of health. I’d thought about this conversation a hundred times before, but this was no dress rehearsal. Unable to tamp down the fear lodged in my throat, I decided to step over it and just tell my story.

When I finished, my mom, a retired psychiatric social worker, put on her professional hat and said: “Sexual abuse is all too common and hidden away.”

Unlike many others who reveal their secret, I was fortunate: Neither my mother nor my father disputed what I was saying; in fact, it all seemed to ring true to them, and Mom even added other bits to the narrative. For example, she wondered aloud, why had my late grandmother become apoplectic whenever my grandfather visited us without her? “We thought she was controlling. Now I wonder if she was trying to protect you kids.”

Despite my many rehearsals for this moment, the drama played out in a way I’d never imagined: The healing power of my family’s love and support was immediately tangible. Of course, I wondered whether my grandfather had sexually assaulted anyone else, but that’s a question for another day.

As I’ve told others since then, I’d been healing in ways I’d hadn’t even hoped for. My friend Peter sent an e-mail, reading in part: “Life seems to be a continual act of coming out, isn’t it? The boundaries we think are uncrossable, the unnamable corners of our soul that we live in fear of bringing to light . . . are the very regions that allow us to feel complete if we dare to explore them. So thank you for crossing borders, shining a light into those corners — they only make you more lovable, more admirable.”

I don’t quote Peter to suggest that I am more lovable or admirable now but to remind myself of this truth (to paraphrase James Joyce from “Ulysses”): Our secrets sit silent in the dark recesses of our hearts, but even they weary of their tyranny, willing and wanted to be dethroned.

Or as Amy said: “It was simply time.”

Petrow writes the “Civilities” advice column for The Post. He can be reached at and

george_segal_woman_on_white_wicker_chair_d5624711hSculpture by George Segal

You sat me down then.
Back then, sat me down.
S a t m e d o w n.
Even now I feel myself resist,
Knees won’t bend
Knowing how much support I still need.

“What?” I said, then.
And you said,
Then you said,
“Sit down,
I want to tell you something.”

And a mother knows.
And I wanted to say, “No.”
“No, I am busy.”
“No, not now.”

“I want to tell you something.”
You said.
“And I don’t want you to say anything until I finish.”
Your voice, a case full of arrows, quivered.
Your face flushed feverishly as you took aim.
I saw that your hands were shaking with your shot across the bow.

And I sat in the chair on the deck in the sun,
Becoming the chair on the deck in the sun.
I was a chair on the deck in the sun when you told me.
My legs rigid with resistance,
My back stiff, inflexible.
As you spoke I became a soft, green cushion buttoned shut.

And when you said,
When you said,
And even now,
My heart is a deep, dark bruise burned into my chest,
Tender and throbbing, aching to be rubbed
Clean of the awful injury

That cut bone-sharp and deep,
Branding a hot hole in my life.
Looking into the red-hot raked-over coals,
I could finally see
The fire he set in you,
That set out to destroy you.

You told on him in measures, weighting my fortitude,
But still, I was losing ground,
Desperate to get around your careful telling,
Trying to look past what you were guarding against,
Trying to see where this was all going,
But even your slow telling of it was too fast for me.

My hands held tight to the chair on the deck in the sun.
My arms becoming white wicker. My hands claws, holding on.
The whole world was barreling down fast,
This freight train of a story,
A story, The Story, THE STORY.
It rounded a sharp corner and I was thrown hard.

You were kind and beautiful,
The last brave thing I saw before I was blown to bits.
Your grace, the only clean, white thread holding me together.
You spoke of forgiveness like a chaplain kneeling beside the dying.
And your deep-throated cry was like a church bell,
Something to hold on to at the screw in the twisted story.

Their fucking miserable story.
Their impudent, reckless, and dangerous behavior.
Their perversions of never accounting for anything
That finally accounted for how I became a chair on the deck in the sun
Made to watch them watching him hurting you.
The mendacious bastards.

And NOW, some time later,
My heart no longer broken,
But mended into a giant, ireful fist.
I am nothing but a hot piston firing relentlessly.
Pounding everything like a sledgehammer,
Hammering and hammering and hammering away.

A pick ax picking it out,
Chiseling away at all their haunts,
Until all their hiding places lay at my feet.
Their recumbent positions of doing too little exposed.
All their lies plain to see.
All their false Gods broken.

Liars, liars, liars,
Fucking liars,
You liars.

I will not be a chair on the deck in the sun.
I will not be a buttoned up soft, green cushion.
I will not.
I will not sit for this.
I will not stand for it.
I will not.

I am the mother of a daughter raped.
There, I’ve said it NOW, aloud and plain for hearing.
The veracity of us both strapped to a chair, trapped.
My close-knit and knotted family tying everyone in, everyone down.
Hollow, deviled monsters.
Malevolent molesters.

I am not a chair on the deck in the sun, now.
I am not a soft, green cushion buttoned shut, now.
My hips are flexible in consideration,
My knees pliant in self-forgiveness,
My arms compassionately wide open.
I am a supplicant healer, a besieger of my girl’s divine truth,

Traveling back in time, this time a sedulous nurse,
Singing careful songs,
Tucking her in safely.
Soothing my girl’s deep wounds,
Washing them right in the warm, salty waters of my abjectly regretted kin,
Stitching them closed with patient kisses.

I will sit down now, without exception,
Sit down with you, my girl. The good mother you deserve.
Forever leaning forward to hear you speak,
Knees easily bending beneath the chair,
My back, relaxed and strong for you,
Unarmed my hands endeared to you, lovingly extended for when you reach.

September 2013


It’s all been said and done.
Said and done.
Well, not all done.
I’ve said.
And I’ve said again.
And before that I asked.
And I asked.
And I asked.
And like cutting boards
For good measure,
I asked again.

But you didn’t answer.
And she didn’t say.
And she didn’t say anything.
And he wasn’t going to tell.
And so I said,
I said,
“Look at this.”
“Did you know?”
“Do you know?”
My words,
Like doves let loose.
Your muffled response
Wrapped and cloaked and veiled.
I can’t make it out.

And you tap your cane.
Same old, same old act.
And she says nothing.
And she says nothing at all.
And he says, “Pick a card,”
And pulls a coin from behind her ear.
“See?”, you say.
I feel a sleight shift.
House left, from behind the curtain
The silent one, puffy and mean,
Spitting nails into the box.
Squaring the sides.
I don’t think she knows the trick,
But what do I know?

And now, ladies and gentleman.
Yes, g e n t l e m a n
I heard you say gentle man.
Have you not heard me?
What I said?
You smile,
Center stage,
Bowing in deference.
It is all blocked in now.
The spotlight fades down stage right.
Its a really big show.
Zig Zag.
Zig Zag.
From here, I can’t see who is doing the cutting.

Light bounces off a sequined jacket.
In a flash,
I remember.
The trick of misdirection.
Zig Zag.
Zig Zag.
Creating confusion.
Zig Zag.
Zig Zag.
The illusion.
The show is perfectly choreographed,
Zig Zag Zig Zag.
All done with smoke and mirrors.
Zig Zag Zig Zag.

I gasp,
The suspense is killing me.
Ahhh, my soft, last breath.
The special effect of penetration.
Knife in the back.
And then the four piece orchestra sounds Da Ta!
And when the box is halved
I come up missing.
And so N O W,
It is done.

December 25, 2012


I learned what you did,
And then what she did,
And then what he did about what you did.
And I saw that she and he felt fury for what you did.
And I thought about what you did,
And I remembered that someone said maybe he did that too.
And then I wondered if you did that to him.

I learned what you did,
And then everything changed.
Like a thin veil of fog blazed by the sun,
Burned off,
Exposing the raw truth of you, and her, and her.
I stepped around it carefully.
Tripped wires,

Wired and wired and wired.
“I can’t make sense of this,” I said to him.
And he said, “I will kill him.”
And I felt afraid for him,
And for her,
And for her,
And for her.

I learned what you did,
And then it was crystal clear
What I would do.
Sounds from a Greek chorus.
Perfectly choreographed
Sunlight magnified on the pitch of the truth,
Set a fire that I could not contain.


Last year offered plenty of moments to have a sustained national conversation about child sexual abuse: the Jerry Sandusky verdict, the BBC’s Jimmy Savile, Horace Mann’s faculty members, and a slew of slightly less publicized incidents. President Obama missed the opportunity to put this issue on his second-term agenda in his inaugural speech.

Child sexual abuse impacts more Americans annually than cancer, AIDS, gun violence, LGBT inequality, and the mortgage crisis combined—subjects that Obama did cover.

Had he mentioned this issue, he would have been the first president to acknowledge the abuse that occurs in the institution that predates all others: the family. Incest was the first form of institutional abuse, and it remains by far the most widespread.

Here are some statistics that should be familiar to us all, but aren’t, either because they’re too mind-boggling to be absorbed easily, or because they’re not publicized enough. One in three-to-four girls, and one in five-to-seven boys are sexually abused before they turn 18, an overwhelming incidence of which happens within the family. These statistics are well known among industry professionals, who are often quick to add, “and this is a notoriously underreported crime.”

Incest is a subject that makes people recoil. The word alone causes many to squirm, and it’s telling that of all of the individual and groups of perpetrators who’ve made national headlines to date, virtually none have been related to their victims. They’ve been trusted or fatherly figures (some in a more literal sense than others) from institutions close to home, but not actual fathers, step-fathers, uncles, grandfathers, brothers, or cousins (or mothers and female relatives, for that matter). While all abuse is traumatizing, people outside of a child’s home and family—the Sanduskys, the teachers and the priests—account for far fewer cases of child sexual abuse.

To answer the questions always following such scandals—why did the victims remain silent for so long, how and why were the offending adults protected, why weren’t the police involved, how could a whole community be in such denial?—one need only realize that these institutions are mirroring the long-established patterns and responses to sexual abuse within the family. Which are: Deal with it internally instead of seeking legal justice and protection; keep kids quiet while adults remain protected and free to abuse again.

Intentionally or not, children are protecting adults, many for their entire lives. Millions of Americans, of both sexes, choke down food at family dinners, year after year, while seated at the same table as the people who violated them. Mothers and other family members are often complicit, grown-ups playing pretend because they’re more invested in the preservation of the family (and, often, the family’s finances) than the psychological, emotional, and physical well-being of the abused.

So why is incest still relegated to the hushed, shadowy outskirts of public and personal discussion, particularly given how few subjects today remain too controversial or taboo to discuss? Perhaps it’s because however devastating sexual molestation by a trusted figure is, it’s still more palatable than the thought of being raped by one’s own flesh and blood. Or is it?

Consider how the clergy abuse shook Catholics to their core, causing internal division and international disenchantment with a religion that was once the bedrock of entire nations. Consider the fallout from Sandusky’s actions and Penn State’s cover-up, both for students and football. Consider how distressing it is for Brits to now come to terms with the fact that the man they watched every night on TV in their living rooms was routinely raping kids just before going on air.

Given the prevalence of incest, and that the family is the basic unit upon which society rests, imagine what would happen if every kid currently being abused—and every adult who was abused but stayed silent—came out of the woodwork, insisted on justice, and saw that justice meted out. The very fabric of society would be torn. Everyone would be affected, personally and professionally, as family members, friends, colleagues, and public officials suddenly found themselves on trial, removed from their homes, in jail, on probation, or unable to live and work in proximity to children; society would be fundamentally changed, certainly halted for a time, on federal, state, local, and family levels. Consciously and unconsciously, collectively and individually, accepting and dealing with the full depth and scope of incest is not something society is prepared to do.

In fact society has already unraveled; the general public just hasn’t realized it yet. Ninety-five percent of teen prostitutes and at least one-third of female prisoners were abused as kids. Sexually abused youth are twice as likely to be arrested for a violent offense as adults, are at twice the risk for lifelong mental health issues, and are twice as likely to attempt or commit teen suicide. The list goes on. Incest is the single biggest commonality between drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, teenage and adult prostitution, criminal activity, and eating disorders. Abused youths don’t go quietly into the night. They grow up—and 18 isn’t a restart button.

How can the United States possibly realize its full potential when close to a third of the population has experienced psychic and/or physical trauma during the years they’re developing neurologically and emotionally—forming their very identity, beliefs, and social patterns? Incest is a national nightmare, yet it doesn’t have people outraged, horrified, and mobilized as they were following Katrina, Columbine, or 9/11.

A combination of willed ignorance, unconscious fears, and naivete have resulted in our failure to acknowledge this situation’s full scope, but we can only claim ignorance for so long. Please reread the statistics in this post, share them with people you know, and realize that each and every one of us needs to pressure the government, schools, and other systems to prioritize this issue. Let’s make this the last inaugural address in which incest and child sexual abuse are omitted, because the way things are now, adults are living in a fantasy land while children are forced to slay the real-life demons.