How common is incest within adoptive families?
How common is incest within adoptive families?

An adult adoptee friend asked me to blog on the topic of extended family members “coming on” to their adopted relatives. She warns that it is more common than we think, but after Woody Allen, maybe none of us should be surprised.

My friend is in a closed adoptee group, and while she didn’t share the discussion with me, she did share that the topic started with “you know you’re adopted when your cousin tries to seduce you saying, ‘you’re not really a blood relative'”. Many adoptees in that group had some variation on that story. She wants adoptive parents to be aware of this possibility.

Let me be clear that we are talking about teens to adulthood of similar ages; therefore not childhood sexual abuse.

Is it incest?

Laws vary in the US and around the world as to whether sex between family members where one is adopted is legally considered incest. Regardless of the legality, in my book it is incest pure and simple, and it is wrong because it is harmful to the adoptee. Period.

How can an adopted person feel anything but “less than” a full member of the family when they know that their cousin and likely other relatives consider them to be outside the family and thus “safe” for dating and sex?

Bottom line: if it’s illegal with a blood relative it should be illegal with an adoptive relative. Heart bonds are as strong, if not stronger, than blood ties.

Is Incest More Common in Adoptive Families?

I was not able to find reliable statistics on whether incest is more common in adoptive families. However, a quick google search of Yahoo Answers found the following questions:

  • Is it incest if you slept with your adopted sister?
  • I’m in love with my adopted cousin. Is this wrong?
  • If you are in a family and your sister is adopted also, is it still incest if you sleep with her?

There are some very sick people in this world!

According Alan Davis, head of the National Council on Child Abuse and Family Violence, “Incest is more likely to occur in a family where at least one parent is a stepparent, and it shows up far more often in homes where both parents are not the natural parents.

What’s an Adoptive Parent to Do?

As adoptive parents, we see our kids as ours – completely and totally. However, all members of our family and extended family may not see them the same way. They may somehow focus on the blood connection versus the heart/emotional connection. How do we prepare our kids for that possibility?

I’m not sure other than being aware of the possibility and keeping a watchful eye.

I believe the situation discussed in the group and brought up by my friend involved same-aged cousins beyond childhood, but this situation shares some similarities with childhood sexual abuse. Most sexual abuse of children is by someone known to the child and parents. Parents tend to focus on stranger danger, but the real danger is usually someone far closer.

Warning Signs of Incest

Incest, as with all forms of abuse, is hard to detect. This is especially the case when it involves teens and adults because the perpetrator or both participants are trying to hide their involvement.

According to Keith Fadelici, licensed clinical social worker and the assistant director of Victims Assistance Services.

“There are no definite signs and anything on the list as an indicator is always potentially explainable in another way,” he explained. “But some of the noteworthy signs are that a child will either avoid or be very attached to that parent, that the child may act more sexual, and that a child may have either extreme fearlessness or fearfulness.”

Often, he said, young victims will respond to incest with self-injurious behavior such as drug abuse, cutting themselves or acquiring an eating disorder. These are ways that kids try to adapt to what`s happening to them.

If you’re adopted, did something like this happen to you? If you’re an adoptive parent, has this possibility ever occurred to you? How do we prevent it?


Image credit: Justin