On the last track, we discussed sharing about physical and sexual abuse. This included preschool age, early elementary age, middle school age and beyond.
On this track, we will discuss sharing with the adopted child regarding rape and incest. First, we will discuss sharing about rape. This will include the early years, middle school years and beyond, the word "rape," and the "tape recorder" technique. Disclosing the circumstances of a child's birth if those circumstances involved rape or incest is not usually an easy task.
Sharing with the Adopted Child about Rape
Calvin and Claudia had recently adopted Willy, age 2. Calvin stated, "We were informed that Willy was conceived as the result of rape. His birth mother was only 16 when she was attacked one night, walking home alone in an unsafe part of town. We have very little further information. I can't tell you how difficult it is to know that one day we will have to shatter his innocence to tell him, and know that it will be because of us that his innocence was shattered…How should we tell him?"
3 Phases of Sharing about Rape
#1 The Early Years
First, Calvin, Claudia and I discussed Willy’s early years. I stated, "Telling Willy the story of his beginning under these circumstances will be a difficult task. In my experience, waiting until Willy is 18 or older and ready to leave home is probably not the best time to share this information with him. Many adopted children have a resurgence of feelings of abandonment as they approach moving away from home and family. Therefore, you may want to share the information with him in increments, starting when he is very young."
I suggested that Calvin and Claudia begin to talk to Willy about his birth using the Life-book Technique, which we discussed on Track 10.
I stated, "One way to talk to Willy about his birth parents in his early years is how you talk about Willy's birth father in his Life-book. The Life-book can reflect, in those early years, that very little information was available about the birth father. Willy probably would not feel a sense of connection to the father he didn’t know until he is between 8 and 10 years old. Developmentally, around 8 or 10 years old, Willy may develop a sense of genetic connectedness and want to know more about his birth father. You might progressively add an explanation, such as 'Your birth mother didn't know your father. I understand the relationship was not a happy one. Your mother found herself in a situation that was not safe for her, but something good came of it because you were born.'"
#2 Middle School Years and Beyond
Second, Calvin, Claudia and I discussed Willy’s middle school years and beyond. I stated, "As soon as Willy asks or becomes aware that it takes two to make a baby, you might tell him his birth mother and birth father were not in love and did not know each other well. This might occur in Willy's preteen or early adolescent years. You might explain to Willy that his birth parents did not 'make love,' but rather 'had sex,' even though the birth mother didn't want to."
#3 The Word "Rape"
Third, in addition to the early years and middle school and beyond, Calvin, Claudia and I discussed the word rape. Calvin asked, "When is it appropriate to use the word 'rape' in explaining to Willy his adoption story?"
I stated, "You may not want to use the word 'rape' until you are certain that Willy understands its meaning. I have found that this usually occurs developmentally around early adolescence. However, you may want to be careful about not waiting too long to tell Willy, in case he finds out the truth from another source first. If that happens, Willy will be deprived of your parental strength and support in coping with the harsh reality. Willy may also then have a new truth added to his map of reality, that Mom and Dad cannot be wholly trusted."
Technique: Tape Recorder
I suggested that Calvin and Claudia use the "Tape Recorder" Technique. I stated, "Whenever you need to say something difficult, it can be helpful to practice before the actual event. Practicing talking about Willy's story with a tape recorder and then listening to yourselves can help you hear what Willy will hear. Listening to the recording of yourselves can help you modify how you might phrase facts.
Do you have a Calvin or Claudia who might benefit from hearing this track in your next session? Now that we've discussed Sharing Rape, we will discuss Sharing About Incest. This will include, again, the Early Years, Middle School Years and Beyond.
Sharing with the Adopted Child about Incest
Incest is another topic that is often very difficult to share with an adopted child. Albert and Diana came to me about their adopted daughter Cassie, age 5. Diana stated, "We learned that Cassie's birth parents were a father and daughter! This is absolutely horrifying to me! How on earth will we ever explain something so disgusting and horrible as incest to our precious little girl?!" How might you have responded?
2 Phases of Telling about Incest
#1 The Early Years
First, I explained to Albert and Diana that in Cassie’s early years, one way to begin to talk about incest is how the birthfather is mentioned in the Life-book.
I stated, "The Life-book can simply reflect in Cassie's early years that the birth father was a member of the birth mother's family. Another possibility is to include a physical or ethnic history of the father in a way that leads to the logical assumption that the birth father and birth mother shared the same family. The Life-book during Cassie's early years can include information that is truthful yet simple, so that the information can be expanded as Cassie gets older. Information can be written in ways that make it easy for Cassie to develop further questions to be developed as she gets older, such as providing that the birth mother and birth father came from the same family."
#2 Middle School Years and Beyond
Second, I stated, "As Cassie approaches middle school, you can begin to share with Cassie that her birth parents grew up in a family that did not know how to show love appropriately. You might say, 'People in this family didn't know how and to whom to express love. Because of that lack of understanding, you were born.'"
Have you found, as I have, that early teen years can be used for educating a child about the causes of rape or incest within a family? I have found that this can be done by visiting support groups or victim advocate groups, continuing with counseling, or researching the topic in the library or on the Internet. Both children and teens can learn that rape is about anger and control of others, and that incest is about extreme family dysfunction. Both of these issues could be related to other forms of physical abuse, anger and control, lack of boundaries, or to an adult incapable of developing intimacy with other adults.
Do you have an Albert or a Diana whose adopted child was conceived as the result of incest? Might he or she benefit from hearing this track?
On this track, we have discussed Sharing About Rape and Incest. This has included the Early Years, Middle School Years and Beyond, The Word "Rape," and The "Tape Recorder" Technique.
On the next track, we will discuss Seven Steps of the Negative Spiral toward adoptive dissolution, whether legal or emotional. This will include the honeymoon, diminishing pleasures, the child is the problem, going public, the turning point, the deadline or ultimatum, the final crisis ends the adoptive relationship and the "Adoption Communication Survey."
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Anthony, E. R., & Cook, S. L. (2012). Assessing the impact of gender-neutral language on disclosure of sexual violence. Psychology of Violence, 2(3), 297–307.
Levy, I., & Eckhaus, E. (2020). Rape narratives analysis through natural language processing: Survivor self-label, narrative time span, faith, and rape terminology. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(6), 635–642.
Messina, R., & Brodzinsky, D. (2020). Children adopted by same-sex couples: Identity-related issues from preschool years to late adolescence. Journal of Family Psychology, 34(5), 509–522.
Palacios, J., Adroher, S., Brodzinsky, D. M., Grotevant, H. D., Johnson, D. E., Juffer, F., Martínez-Mora, L., Muhamedrahimov, R. J., Selwyn, J., Simmonds, J., & Tarren-Sweeney, M. (2019). Adoption in the service of child protection: An international interdisciplinary perspective. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 25(2), 57–72.
Ryan, S. D., & Madsen, M. D. (2007). Filial family play therapy with an adoptive family: A response to preadoptive child maltreatment. International Journal of Play Therapy, 16(2), 112–132.
Solin, C. A. (1986). Displacement of affect in families following incest disclosure. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 56(4), 570–576.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 13
What is one way to begin to address the issue of incest with a child in early years?
To select and enter your answer go to