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Incest and the Idea Behind the Word Consensual

I just came across an interesting article on CNN Health about Mackenzie Phillips’ incestuous relationship with her father. The article gives a bit more information on her autobiography in which she discusses what happened and also explained how she used the world “consensual” for lack of a better term. A large group of survivors and related networks came after her, in a way, for having used the word to describe the relationship. The article also gives some interesting numbers in terms of statistics, including that 25% of cases reported in 12 states in 2000 involved family members as perpetrators in a sexually abusive situation.

The article also does explain the “consensual” bit pretty well. All abusers have a tremendous amount of power over the child victim, but this power is even more pronounced when the perpetrator is a parent. When you’re a kid, your parents are where the world begins and ends in a way. They are law, completely. In knowing this, I think, parent perpetrators really flex this power in making the child do as they are told, and hence making the child feel as if they are “agreeing” to what is going on. This is something that becomes so deeply ingrained it takes a very long time to realize and accept, that this isn’t true at all.

Over the years during which I was being raped by my father, there was very little I could say or do in way of resistance. Everything started when I was very small. As I got older, I knew that what was going on was incredibly wrong, somehow, but it was something that had to be done. It didn’t seem “normal” as much as it did necessary. Commonplace in the house. Like the dishes or the laundry or the dusting.

I didn’t think everyone else did this with their parent. I was once in a support group where a woman said she grew up thinking everyone had sex with their fathers. It was an interesting take on how the child-mind can rationalize such brutal events, especially with such a sad and tormented undercurrent of love. “Daddy isn’t hurting me. This is just normal. Everyone does it. It’s alright.” Anything to believe that the parent — Daddy, the god-law — isn’t a bad person.

Of course, many of us grow to know that it’s wrong. Many, but not all, come to accept that these things were not agreed to, and that we were innocent, and that our perpetrators were sick people. Too many, however, never get to know these things. And become slaves, in a way, to the past via emotion. Mistreatment, unfairness, abuse, and a myriad of other things are sought after in adult life because this was the road that was paved as children. This, is what is normal. Some never even realize it. Others are too afraid to question another take on life, especially one of “freedom”. Freedom implies responsibility and reclaiming oneself. An uphill battle, when one has this anvil of a past attached to one’s foot. But it is so very well worth it.

There is so much to life, so much goodness to life, than one often imagines is possible. But it is there. And happily waiting to greet you with love and reuniting you with the fortune of accepting and loving yourself.

Should you need resources for yourself or someone you know on support for dealing with the effects of incest, visit Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website and/or call their hotline: 800-656-HOPE.

About womeninstrangeplaces

I am a writer and artist from New York City. I live in Oslo, Norway. I dedicate my work to promoting literacy, experimentation and expression, women's empowerment, and awareness against sexual violence. I do my best to do what my gut tells me at all times, and on weekends, I go dancing.

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