Why is incest and sexual assault so problematic for society?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

There are two ways to interpret this question.  I do not know which you mean, so I will try to answer both briefly.

Interpretation 1: Why do people in our society think that these crimes are so heinous?

There are at least two reasons to think that incest is heinous.  Most cases of incest involve serious power differentials.  They occur between parents and children rather than between siblings who are close in age and are just experimenting.  This means that the parent is betraying the trust that the child has in them.  They are abusing their power and harming someone they are supposed to be caring for.  The second is that incest goes against the whole purpose of family.  Nuclear families are supposed to enforce sexual fidelity and they are supposed to ensure that children are brought up in a safe environment.  Incest goes against both of these.

There are a number of reasons why sexual assault is seen as a heinous crime.  First, it involves violating a person in one of the most personal ways possible.  It causes physical and emotional pain and should therefore be considered a terrible crime.  Second, most sexual assault (though not all) is directed against women.  In many parts of society, we still think that men should use their greater strength to protect women, not to violate them.  Thus, it is an abuse of masculinity.  Finally, sexual assault (we can argue) makes it harder for a man to think of a woman as “his.”  We (arguably) still have a society in which men expect women to “belong” to them if they are in a relationship.  When another man assaults “your” woman, it reduces your “ownership” of her and that seems like a heinous crime to many.

Interpretation 2: Why are these crimes so common in our society?

To the extent that incest and sexual assault are common in our society, the explanation can vary from person to person.  It is hard to know for certain why people behave as they do and our answers often have more to do with our own beliefs than with objective truth.  Here are some possible answers.

Some might say that these crimes are more common because of our declining religiosity.  There are many people who believe that America’s overall moral fiber has degenerated as religion has declined in significance.  They would say that we need things like prayer in school and more public expressions of Christianity so we can return to a more moral way of life.

Another answer is that our society is overly sexualized.  We all know that “sex sells” and that advertisers and others plaster our society with sexually charged images.  By doing this, we are encouraging men to think of women as sex objects.  We are also encouraging them to think that sex is not something that is reserved for marriage.  (With incest, specifically, we can say that our culture also sexualizes girls at a much younger age than ever before.)  This makes sexual assault more likely.

A final answer is that sexual assault is a crime of male control, not of sex.  In this view, sexual assault happens largely because men feel the need to assert control over women.  In our society today, women are eating away at the dominance that men once enjoyed.  This makes men feel insecure.  They respond to this feeling by exerting control over women in a way that is still available to them. 

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seaofknowledge's profile pic

seaofknowledge | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted on

There are certain accepted norms in society. Two of these are that 1) sexual relations between family members is immoral and unacceptable and that 2) individuals have the right of physical safety and sexual harassment or assault is a violation of this right.

These norms are not only generally understood beliefs with psychological, ethical and religious basis, but are often times law as well. For example, there are laws in the US which protect individuals from sexual harassment and assault.

Incest and sexual assault are problems because they do not fit within the ethical framework of society. Meaning that these are not actions that society can accept or approve of. These notions have strong roots in religion because religion is the basis of ethical rules in most societies. Society has determined the right ways of conduct based on the laws outlined in religion. We find incest and sexual harassment immoral because it is against the laws of God and the way God intended people to live.

There are of course, other ways to interpret this topic. For example, it could be looked at from a psychological point of view and how these behaviors harm the psychological well being of an individual. Or we could look at it from a medical perspective since these behaviors harm an individual's physical body as well.

devinsmith's profile pic

devinsmith | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

These are so problematic for two big reasons; one, they make most people very uncomfortable and two, they will always happen no matter what we do. 

Expanding on the first problem, rape and incest make people uncomfortable. Its something that most people find it very difficult to talk about and so usually, they don't. It gets swept under a rug and charges aren't pressed, because what person wants to bring up rape, incest, or God forbid both to someone they fear judgement from?

Secondly, no matter what laws we put in plavce these things will always happen. You can tell little boys and girls that these things are wrong as much as you want and it'll happen anyway. That's because people that commit these crimes usually aren't in a proper state of mind or have some sort of mental illness.

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