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Victim Responses to Incest

In her book Victimized Daughters: Incest and the Development of the Female Self, Janet Liebman Jacobs states that incest represents "the most extreme form of the sexual objectification of the female child in patriarchal culture." (Jacobs, 11) She makes a compelling case for the fact that incest has a major impact on female personality development, including gender identity.

Jacobs' book highlights significant developmental issues that influence the personality formation of sexually abused daughters, and among these is identification with the perpetrator. Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund Freud and the founder of child psychoanalysis, elaborates on this process:

A child introjects some characteristic of an anxiety-object and so assimilates an anxiety-experience which he [she] has just undergoneā€¦ By impersonating the aggressor, assuming his attributes or imitating his aggression, the child transforms himself [herself] from the person threatened into the person who makes the threat. (Freud, 121)

Turning away from her mother, whom she perceives as an untrustworthy betrayer-of-her-own-kind, the victimized daughter looks toward the male perpetrator, who, because he is her abuser, is perceived as powerful, and who, because he is male, still hold the potential for objective idealization. "Female," for the daughter, has become identified as the subjective gender for victims and betrayers. According to trauma researcher Judith Herman, "In her desperate attempts to preserve her faith in her parents, the child victim develops highly idealized images of at least one parentā€¦ More commonly, the child idealizes the abusive parent and displaces all her rage onto the nonoffending parent." (Herman, 106) Describing her research with survivors of father-daughter incest, Herman notes, "With the exception of those who had become conscious feminists, most of the incest victims seemed to regard all women, including themselves, with contempt." (Herman, Father-Daughter Incest, 103)

Rejecting the mother and her own female identity, the victimized daughter begins to imitate the aggressor. E. Sue Blume, author of Secret Survivors, describes how the daughter reinvents herself through identification with the perpetrator.

...child victims often recreate themselves, developing alter egos who offer a positive live alternative to their own. Most commonly, this is a male persona: female survivor clients may either substitute alternative male personalities, or attach to a male fantasy companion. This is simple to understand: as a victim, and a female, she associates her vulnerable state with defenselessness; males, however, are seen as physically stronger, and not easily targeted for victimization. (Blume, 85)