Internalization and Opposition to Stigmatized Social Discourse among Incest Survivors

Efrat Shaked, Moshe Bensimon, Rivka Tuval Mashiach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Despite the high prevalence of incest, survivors are reluctant to disclose its existence for reasons such as shame, guilt and the presence of an accusatory and stigmatizing social discourse. The current mixed methods study examined the internal discourses of 13 incest survivors in Israel, reflected in self-reported internal dialogs which emerged during interviews. The qualitative analysis revealed a dialectical tension between two themes–one reflecting an internalization of the social discourse (manifested as quotes taken from social discourse and uttered by the survivors) and the other an agentic discourse (manifested in utterances either resisting the social discourse or showing an empowering advertence to one’s own fulcrum). The quantitative analysis showed that for seven participants the internalized social discourse expressions were most frequent, for five the agentic expressions were most frequent, and that for one the discourses were at equilibrium. The ubiquitous sub-themes manifested in the internalized social discourse were: victimhood (feelings of vulnerability and helplessness), survivorship (meaningless existence, despair and hopelessness), negative self-esteem and self-pathology (perception of the self as having pathological psychological problems), and denial/repression of the abuse. The ubiquitous sub-themes manifested in the agentic discourse were: positive self-image and sense of potency, hope, optimism and positive perception of life, and uprising against the parents and institutions that did not give support. The discussion is based on Butler’s concept of vulnerability, which suggests how to address the harms inflicted by incest without erasing aspects of the survivors’ agency and growth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)847-868
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Child Sexual Abuse
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to each one of the women who participated in this study for trusting us and for their willingness to share their body-mind experiences as incest survivors. This article is part of the lead author’s dissertation which was submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Gender Studies Program of Bar-IlanUniversity, Israel.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Taylor & Francis.


  • Incest survivors
  • agency
  • social discourse
  • stigmas
  • victim blaming


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