Thursday, February 17, 2011

Iowa Man Arrested For Incest, Note to Journalists

This coverage in the Sioux City Journal is all too typical of criminal charges for incest.

A Spencer man faces seven counts of incest for allegedly performing a sex act with a relative, authorities say.

Seven counts of incest for one sex act? Was the game Twister involved?

“A relative.” They don’t identify the man, so why can’t they say who this relative is to him?

The Clay County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that the man, 47, had sexual contact with a relative from May 2009 to March 2010.

That’s a long time for one sex act. I thought we were supposed to call a doctor if an erection lasts more than four hours.

The man is 47. If the relative is a daughter, she could easily be an adult. She could be 31 years old, for all we know. Or she could be a sister or niece and be even closer in age to him.

The man also fathered a child with the victim, the statement alleged.

No details given about the child. That leads me to believe that the child is healthy.

Incest is a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

I have a huge problem with that...

1) If we’re talking rape, which is what must be involved if this was a nonconsensual, which to me is automatic if we’re talking about am minor, then five years is not nearly enough time. The guy should be charged with rape and do hard time for a long time.

2) If we’re talking about consensual sex between adults, the woman is not a victim, and this shouldn’t even be a crime. They should be allowed to marry, if that is what they want, and raise their child. Instead, the family is getting torn apart by “sex police” laws.

If this is a matter of consensual sex, it is outrageous that this is happening, and it is terrible that this kind of coverage perpetuates the problem.


Sex between close relatives is still illegal in many jurisdictions, and as such, law enforcement or courts may not make a distinction in their press releases between child rape by a relative, child molestation by a relative, statutory rape by a relative, rape/sexual assault of an adult by a relative… and sex between relatives who are minors but close in age and sex between adults who are relatives. The term “incest” may be used to describe all of those, but there is an obvious difference between the first set of crimes and the last two situations. There’s a clear difference between, say, a father molesting his 10-year-old daughter and a couple of adults who are living as husband and wife or were caught by someone else having recreational sex.

Please provide enough details in your reports to make a distinction. Do not settle for terse statements from courts or law enforcement that do not provide a distinction. Although all incestuous activity may be illegal depending on the jurisdiction, consensual sex between adults should not be a crime and should not be lumped together with child abuse or rape.

I prefer using the phrase “consanguineous sex” to make the distinction, but could journalists please at least use the terms “incestuous rape” or “incestuous assault” and “consensual incest” to make the distinction? Yes, it may seem silly to report that someone has been arrested for consensual sex, but that’s exactly the point. Nobody should be arrested for consensual sex in the first place.
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