Assumed power dynamics in incest cases

Check this out, via Slate.

This is an interesting example of how presumed stereotypes in power dynamics between male and female, old and young, father and daughter tend to filter into how prosecutors treat incest cases.  As the author of this post rightly notes, because incest cases are not concerned with “consent” (the act of incest is illegal in itself), the question of who is ultimately responsible for the act tends to fall on the assumed ‘dominant’ party (typically the male, the older, or the father).

Now, I share no special insight into the relationship between Epstein and his daughter – it may be the case that there are some serious power imbalances between the two, she may have been pressured, etc.  But given some of the details of this case (the incest began after she reached age of majority, the two are said to have exchanged lewd texts to each other), it seems reasonable to suggest that she ought to be considered partly culpable, or at least that it should not be assumed that incest is necessarily a ‘one-way street’.  Yet notice the language here: “Sources said the victim was over 18 when the relationship began in 2006 and that the two often exchanged twisted text messages.”  Because, generally speaking, cases of incest most often accurately fit the narrative of ‘aggressor and victim’, and that we recognize within our culture typically oppressive power dynamics between male/female, parent/child, it then becomes all too easy to fit what are otherwise mutually-consented incestuous relationships into the established narrative of incest victimhood.  We thereby run the potential risk of being satisfied with an overly simplified, generalized, and distorted picture of the particular case at hand (not to mention ignoring the detrimental effects on gender equality resulting from cultural and legal stereotypes of the female as ‘victim’).

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