Incest : Forced vs Consensual

Forced Incest

While jumping through news sites, one of my friend pointed out the Josef Fritzl’s case. The story made me gasp in horror. Fritzl has been repeatedly raping his daughter from the past twenty years and has fathered seven children with her, out of which six are surviving. Fritzl has been keeping his daughter a prisoner in the basement of his house while his son and wife were unaware of his deed. You can read the complete story here. One of the six children named Kerstin Fritzl has been suffering from epilepsy and has been put into a clinically induced coma. Two other boys named Stefan and Felix are coping up with sunlight and open spaces after been confined to a dark closed space for such a long time.

What shocked me was the ruthless way in which all of this was carried out. Josef Fritzl has been depicted as the most inhuman monster mankind has ever known. While rummaging through Internet to gain insight into this horrendous crime, I came across another aspect of the story where the monster was the victim. According to this report, Fritzl himself was brought up by a very temperamental mother and was subjected to brutal abuses. This somehow explains the mental imbalance and the psychological effect of his growing up years which would have lead him to commit this crime. Somehow he lost the power to feel sympathy towards anyone and even abused his own wife after their marriage. Time would tell the fate of Fritlz but its hard to imagine the trauma of his daughter and the children. Most of the psychiatrists are quite doubtful about the future of the children as it might take at least four to eight years of intensive therapy for them to return back to a normal life. Incest victims generally suffer from low self esteem, depression, anxiety, difficulty in relationships, sexual malfunction and personality disorders to name a few.

What Fritzl did is something unpardonable as it was forced and ruthless. While reading Archana’s post, I realised that such incidences are not something uncommon, although not so extreme in nature but equally disturbing. While googling, I came across another aspect of Incest which will be equally shocking for most of us.

Consensual Incest

Consider the following stories :

  • A German couple Patrick Stuebing and Susan Karolewski are fighting the law. Patrick is Susan’s brother and they have four children. Patrick has already served a jail sentence of two years as Adult Incest is against the law in Germany. Their first three kids have been taken away from them are are living with their foster parents. You can read the full story here.
  • Woody Allen married his former lover, Mia Farrow‘s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn who is 35 years younger to him. Farrow and Allen were dating for almost a decade when she found out of his relationship with her adopted daughter. You can read the story here. Although this is not a pure case of Incest per se, but Allen was a father figure to the Farrow kids ever since Previn was in her pre-teens.
  • John Deaves and his daughter Jenny admitted to having incestuous relationship and the couple have a nine month old daughter. They are permitted to see each other but can’t have sexual relationship. You can read the story here.
  • Ancient civilizations like Egyptian, Roman and Greek allowed incestuous links, specially in the royal families. It is said that Cleopatra herself married many of her brothers.
  • There are tribes in Africa which practice “Internal Reproduction” which ensures that the tribe survives. They don’t look at it as Incest but as a survival technique.

All these stories and facts underline the role which culture and Jurisdiction play to make Consensual Incest punishable. There are some religions which allow marriage with cousins and distant relatives while some allows marriage in the same cast but not in the same family tree.

The issue of legalizing incest is being raised again and again against the age old taboo. The question being asked is that if same sex marriages and Prostitution can be legalized in some countries, then why not Consensual Incest? How can a consensual activity between two adults be criminal?

Scientifically, it was argued that members of a family belong to the same gene pool, so the probability of defects and diseases increase. This can become more severe if the inbreeding is allowed for several generations. But a recent study reveals that children of unrelated parents have a 3% to 4% risk of having serious birth defects, while the offspring of first cousins have only a slightly higher risk of about 4% to 7%. This has again turned the tide against the present laws in many countries.


Surely, what Fritzl did is a punishable offence but there is a debate over how the prevailing laws need to be modified to put Forced and Consensual Incest in two separate boxes. The quintessential questions(in case of Consensual Incest) still remains – Is the modern society of any country ready for such a relationship between two consenting adults or will they still be treated as outcasts? Is it just a matter of how we choose to live or how we choose to live in a society? Different people will look at the issue with different angles. Some might find it completely wrong morally and ethically while some might have an I-don’t-care attitude towards it.

What do you think?

p.s. For the latest developments on the Fritzl case, you can read this.

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56 comments on “Incest : Forced vs Consensual

  1. Its very hard to digest but there are many cases like this in India too which are not highlighted by media fortunately which atleast dont give ideas to others.

  2. Kudos to u Amit..I see this as ur next bright step forward..Well written..This is one of the most disturbing stories i have read in recent times.Fritzl deserves maximum punishment if he is not found psychologically affected. His is an act of extreme selfishness which no one will accept.

  3. It is an act of extreme selfishness. I hope the children/grandchildren are able to lead some semblance of a “normal” life – if it is at all possible.

  4. This is really disgusting beyond words. No man in his right senses would do such a cheap act!The people mentioned in your post must either be psychos or mentally disturbed people. To the external world, they might seem just as normal but within, they are paranoiac and disturbed.
    Well, doing anything for the sake of happiness is not the right way to live.ANd having a care-a-damn for doing things like these can’t be justified.

  5. The extreme nature of this crime does shock, but where incest is concerned it’s very common, even in India. In fact there are reports that incest is far more common in India than in western countries because of the sexual repression here and also because of the joint family system. Uncles and cousins are all guilty and so are fathers. Also more common in India because in our country the incest laws are weak. Also in our country we are so repressed that we pretend that incest doesn’t exist, and readily trust our children with relatives and worse, we don’t believe the children. Also in India children are more afraid of talking about it because of sexual repression and taboo about sex and also because of the hierarchical status of our society where children come at the bottom. Another reason why incest goes unchecked in India…due to fear of social ostracisation victims don’t complain.
    A survey on Indian children has revealed that 40 percent of Indian children are sexually abused at some time or the other, including boys. 90 percent of the perpetrators are either relatives or school teachers.

  6. We dont even have proper laws against sexual oppression of wives by husbands inside a marriage. In fact marriage is seen as a license for having sex (whether the woman agrees or not). The guy who is so repressed (cause of our so called stupid indian and moral values) and has never even had the chance to have a proper conversation with a girl in his entire life is going to make the life of his wife hell. Rapes within marriage are so common in India.

    There was a report sometime back that almost 90% of Indian woman are raped on their first night of their marriage. The girl is terrified, the guy is excited and egged on by his friends, its only natural for a rape to happen. What we need today is to make sex education compulsory in school itself. We need to teach the boys to stop looking at the girls as if they are some aliens and vice versa. A healthy intermixing of kids from childhood is important for such things to be nixed in the bud.

    As Nita says above, millions of cases of incest are unreported. Fathers exploiting their own children, uncles, aunts, brothers, it goes on. Awareness is important so that kids will raise hell when they are exploited.

  7. Only one verdict for Fritzl if I was the judge in his case…cut off his manhood and then imprison him for life!

    This NEWS affected me so badly that I did not watch any NEWS channels for atleast 2 weeks. And here in the UK, British soldiers being killed in the was over shadowed by this case! (not that I support the war…but then it’s your young men dying out there and it’s Fritzl they care about!)

    Only when my faith in humanity is restored..something like this happens. Only when I think ‘this is the worst thing that could happen to humanity’ someone succesfully crosses the boundry.

    Did you know that Fritzl was holidaying in some exotic country when his daughter was locked up in the cellar with the kids? How can anyone be so cruel? Pathetic and Disgusting!!!!!

    Sorry for pouring myself out in your blog 😦

  8. Nicely written Amit. I still wonder what those children (well one is 19 years I guess) will do now. Its very difficult for them now they are grown up.

  9. This news is really very disgusting and depressing. The report which discloses that Fritzl himself was abused by his mother is the proof of the psychological degradation of mankind. This is the result of the dreadful conditions the people had to bear during wartimes and even before that. The psychological suffering is so ingrained that it has been passed onto generations. I think concelling and mentoring is a need for every person in today’s times. If this situation remains unchecked then we may face more hedious crimes in future.

  10. whether consensual incest is moral or ethical, i think if more people who are doing this come out, it will go the same path as homosexuality.

  11. This is very unpleasant topic. I think it takes strong nerves to research on the subject.

    There are two obvious facets involved here: incest and child sexual abuse. And a third one: violation of basic human rights. 😦 I hate to know such people exist on earth.

  12. What do I think?
    I think youre are raping your daughter or you know someone raping his daughter and youre trying to reason out that its not that all bad.
    Do not tolerate inhumane actions. If you start accepting this, what is the next horrible crime you would accept?

  13. @Vinod : Yes, its very very shocking. And I did checked the link you gave. Its a very disturbing read.
    @Vijaya Bharat : Its not that they are not highlighted by media, but the families of the sufferers try to keep everything under wraps. And I don’t think it just happens in India. Its prevalent everywhere.
    @Karthik : Thanks Karthik. The news was so disturbing that I just knew that I have to take it up for a post. And when I started Googling, it just opened a Pandora’s box. I was left very disturbed at the end.
    @Lactatingbookworm : I too sincerely hope so, although a few of the psychiatrists who have studied the cases have given up hope. These children deserve a normal life like all of us.
    @Rampantheart : I am 100% sure that Fritzl is mentally disturbed. No person in his normal state of mind is capable of such a crime. In case of Consensual Incest, are the adults really mentally imbalanced? From what I can understand, Carnal desires and moral/ethical stands are two aspects of our life which are very well defined. The moment a person starts to intermix/ignore any of these two aspects, he/she enters troubled waters. But the attitude of the world do change over a period of time. Take the case of same sex marriages. It was a taboo topic 20 years back, but its quite normal when we read such a news now a days. But personally, I do not approve of Consensual Incest.
    @Nita, @Liju Philip : Yes, India will be having a lot more number of such cases. We still have to go a long way to implement proper laws. But I am not sure if being a sexually oppressed nation is the real problem. America and the European countries are not oppressed, but still there is no dearth of such cases there. Even the Fritzl case came into light only when the oldest child developed an ailment and had to be hospitalized. Otherwise, God knows for how many more years this would have continued.
    An awareness is definitely required amongst the younger generation but there is something else also which is fundamentally wrong with our society. Why can’t the adults practice self control? Why is it that desires take such a precedence over everything else that humans are not able to differentiate between the right and the wrong?
    @Idlidosa : If we are cutting off his manhood then why should we put him in a prison? We should put him in the same basement where he kept his daughter. The guy has now the guts to make statements like – everyone should be thankful to him that he kept all the survivors alive. He could have killed them. Imagine!!!
    @Xylene : The children will hopefully undergo some treatment and should be able to lead a normal life. Amen.
    @kaushal : Yes he is an mentally imbalanced soul who his not able to understand the implications of what he did. He is not ashamed of doing the crime.
    @Suda : Thanks Suda. Yes they are all grown up and it will take a lot of effort and love to bring them back to normalcy.
    @Maddie : War or no war, we humans sometimes loose the capability of distinguishing between the right and the wrong. Is it so hard for a human to stop for a second and think of the impact his actions are going to have on another life? Is it so hard to curb a desire which we know is going to destroy a life?
    @Sulz : Exactly my point. I personally don’t favour it but if more such incidences come to light it would definitely go the same path as Homosexuality and Prostitution went. Its just a matter of time.
    @Poonam : Thanks Poonam. Yes, I was a little apprehensive about writing the post once I went deeper into the topic.
    Yes, it feels so disgusting to be a human at times. I wonder if the survivors would ever understand what it means to lead a normal life. The scars never fade away. Do they?
    @Liz : I don’t think any person in his/her normal frame of mind would encourage Forced incest. And I am personally against Consensual incest too.

  14. Interesting post Amit. You seem to have done a lot of research. However, I am not sure if you can treat sex marriages and Prostitution in the same league as incest. A father by nature has lot of physical and emotional control over his daughter. I wonder if it can ever be truly consensual.

  15. Pingback: Incest Father « Books, Science and Stories

  16. shocking…. truly shocking..
    i am sure there are lot of fritzl out there…
    and yeah in india too.i had heard in some new channel about similar story in india :O
    ..but yeah it was not this big and disgusting…
    and i read that his lawyer is trying to get an insanity certificate/…thats ridiculous…
    you do all the misdeeds and escape punishment through some god damned certificate…
    does he deserve to live anyway ???

  17. @Archana : Thanks Archana. Yes I can understand your point and I too think that a father-daughter consensual incest would be a very rare occurence. Generally it would be a stepfather-daughter sort of a case or it might also occur in case the father and daughter have not met over a long period of time and have not emotionally bonded. There is evidence of such occurences. Whatever the case may be, it always put the relationship to shame.
    @Arvind : Yes, they are trying to prove that he is mentally imbalanced. That is why he is making such bold statements, just to prove his lawyers right. I guess the judiciary need to create some new kind of unthinkable punishment for him.
    p.s. Congrats for the completion of your exams. Hope we will see you around more frequently. πŸ˜€
    @Nikhil : Amen!!!

  18. yes, one news tht shocked everyone. i mean, how can he do tht to his own daughter, keep her in the same house, n his wife poor thing tot her daughter ran away!!? christ!! I am not really aware of such stuff goin on in urban india.

  19. Good analysis of the subject.. To be frank, i havent heard of such an incidence till 2 years before when an australian court sentenced a priest for sexually abusing his two daughter (which later he justified he was teaching that to his daughter)..

    In animals, when the offspring, grows to adulthood, it will attempt to mate with its own mother..

    I am afraid, the difference b/w animal and man is dwindling a lot..

    This is one of the situation, where india’s family system plays a vital role..

    One of the important factor is the film and television industry.. its filled with rampant obsenes, lust, glamours and vulgar dances..

    As an adult, we can understand and differentiate it.. But, what will the child do?

    First the film industry should be streamlined, if we wish not to have such kind of situation in india..

  20. While the news is very disturbing, what is equally disturbing is some of the comments in this post.. like, when some thing bad happens in the west, they are quick to drag india in to that..

    This is equivalent to say “My country is no greater.. it occurs here also, but not reported”..
    A self degradation, out of a unknown fact.. (how come the commenters know the unreported facts..)

  21. @amit
    good 2 c u blogging on such a serious topic..n 4 dat guy he is d biggest piece of sh** 😑 i mean i have been reading abt it in d papers n he actually said ki he is nt a monster dat he is projected 2 be n dat n man has his own needs…i mean WTF!!!! 😑 i seriously feel he shld b hanged 4 dis…one more news dat had come about a month back is about a man 4m australia who after his wife left him…met his daughter after about 20 years n had sex with her n has fathered 3 children with her..2 of which are handicapped….n they feel that it was nt wrong coz “god” wanted it dat way…can u believe dat??? 😯 i mean d fact dat she cld look at her own father in dat way makes me sick 2 d stomach 😑

  22. @Shuz : Yes its very shocking. Incest is prevalent everywhere. In India its all hushed up because of the nature of the society.
    @Senthil : Thanks for commenting. I don’t think the film industry has anything to do with it. As far as I can understand, things are still quite subdued in our industry as compared to the west. The people need to be educated and yes, there is a moral and ethical factor too which comes from within. Our being a sexually oppressed nation also plays a big role.
    And its not that it doesn’t happen in India. Infact its more rampant here. You can check out this very interesting link :

  23. @Riddhima : Thanks. πŸ™‚ The only reason I generally don’t blog on serious topics is that they require some amount of research and I am quite tied up most of the time. That guy is a psycho and its so terrifying to imagine that such people are amongst us, walking with us. And don’t get so angry, your BP will shoot up. πŸ˜‰

  24. Thanks amit.. the report you had quoted needs an analysis.. like which area this is taken, and the distribution of people interviewed.

    /** Our being a sexually oppressed nation also plays a big role **/

    I think, its somewhat very harsh comment.. I dont get exactly what you are conveying by this. Do you mean lacking of free sex?

  25. I find that most people have not commented on the question you asked: should consensual incest be illegal. The answer is “of course NOT!” Sex is a private activity between consenting individuals. What does the Government have to do with it?

  26. @amit
    arrey my BP shot up d moment i read d article n it shoots up even further wenever i read abt it or c dat jerk’s pics in d papers…makes me wanna strangle him with my bare hands 😑

  27. @Senthil : The report must have been published after some through analysis. I am very sure BBC won’t publish something just for the heck of it. πŸ™‚
    /** Our being a sexually oppressed nation also plays a big role **/
    What I am trying to convey is that Sex Education is very important in a country like ours where people generally shy away from such topics.

    @Rambodoc : Yes, even I felt that everyone was shying away or completely ignoring that part of the post. πŸ™‚ I completely agree that Consensual Incest happens between two individuals who are aware of what they are doing(although I don’t approve of any kind of Incest). In fact any sort of sexual activity between two consenting adults need not be illegal. Its their life.

    @Riddhima : Cool it. Cool it. πŸ™‚

  28. Thanks amit.. BBC may be a good brand.. but having the details is always better..

    And lack of sex education doesnt mean sexually oppressed.. i just wanted to say Oppressed is too heavy a word to use..

    i agree with you on sex education..

  29. Thanks Amit..

    Few weeks before, i just read a case in one of the tamil magazine where an anonymous person described about her relationship with her relative brother in her teens out of ignorance, and that she was suffering from the guilt consciousness out of this..

    This was rather puzzling me.. under what category can we categorize such cases? Is it a forced incest or consensual incest?

    Or is it Incest out of Ignorance? It seems, the above case was neither forced nor consciously done..

  30. @Senthil : I think if she was not an adult at that time, then this is a case of Forced Incest. Many people don’t understand the severity of what’s happening because of the ignorance factor. That is why I don’t think these kind of cases can be categorised into “concensual” incest as they occur more out of Ignorance rather than consent.

  31. Amit:

    Legality is often determined by a society’s prevailing sense of morality. Marrying first cousins may be seen as incest in some societies; whereas social norms prevailing for centuries makes that the method of choice for marriage in some other cultures.

    An evolutionary psychology perspective will probably tell you that incest is but to be expected as individuals seek to perpetrate their own genes. However the same evolutionary perspective should take into account the legacy of diseases resulting in children produced as a result of consanguineous unions, which one could say, ‘contaminates’ the genes.

    In Germany, a brother and a sister were recently reported to have lost their fight to make their incestuous relationship legal. It was perfectly consensual. Fritzl’s case is extreme and there was no possibility of consent, and was forced. Both cases are being judged by the prevailing morality of the societies they occurred in.

    Unlike R-Doc, I do not believe the law has no role to play. Many children, teens and young adults, for instance, are at the mercy of their parents who should have a duty of care towards them. Increasingly many children live in single-parent families with transient partnerships or in step-families where one could argue there is no biological incest if a step-parent (either gender) molests a step-child (either gender). There is also a power imbalance between parent and child, and sometimes between siblings. Legalisation of incest would put many of these children and other persons in a low-power situation at risk.

  32. R-Doc: I think that is a technicality.

    I do not think that just as a person turns 18 or whatever, a ‘maturity’ switch is flicked in a person. Indeed the age of ‘consent’ itself is culturally varied and for instance, is as low as 13 in Spain (the age for voting is 18). In case of Joseph Fritzl, the abuse started when the girl was 11 or 12. If there is an age differential, then the possibility of the older person ‘grooming’ the younger person will always exist and hence my mention of the power imbalance.

  33. @Ankur : Forced incest is ofcourse bad, there is no doubt about that. The debate is over consensual incest.
    @Shefaly, @Rambodoc : Considering the Fritzl case, what would have happened if this would not have come to light? The girl was 11 when the abuse started. What would have happened if the country would have legalised consensual incest by the time the girl reached 18 and his father would have somehow managed to prove that it was a case of purely consensual incest?
    So, technically, even if the incest happens to be forced, the victim can be forced/emotionally blackmailed to agree that it was consensual once he/she reaches adulthood.
    This seems to be a very obvious loophole if consensual incest is legalised.

  34. Interesting question. I don’t think we should group incest between consenting adults & forced incest in the same bucket. We may find it morally repugnant, but that per se doesn’t make it illegal.

    Sociologically, many cultures consider incest a taboo not because of any scientific reasons. But, because of role confusion & role conflict. Groups can avoid strain within family units only if some mores are observed. Jealousy between mother & daughter, both vying for sex from the father can tear the group asunder.

    Perhaps, instead of legalizing incest between consenting adults, we can stop criminalizing it.

  35. @Priya Raju : The problem of our system is that if something is not legal then its automatically criminal. But, I do agree with the fact that there has to be separate brackets for both the types. But then again, it might lead to other kind of problems, as you can read in the discussion above.

  36. Parsis marry within their community which often ends up being their first cousins, a custom widely popular among other religions too as you and Shefaly pointed. For a long time I thought that was incest, but its hard to define because the concept of a ‘family’ is so fluid. A family tree is often shown having grandfather/grandmother as the head.

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  38. I read this post when i saw it nominated today… And am glad i tumbled here! πŸ™‚

    Though many might not agree but as an adult i feel that consentual incest should be legalised. What two willing adults do is their perogative and not anybody else’s. Having said that i really do not know how will i react if “god forbid” my own children have such relationship!!

    Good post Amit and it deserved the nomination! πŸ™‚

  39. @Priyank : Oh! How did I missed this comment. πŸ™‚ Consensual Incest is a very vague term in many ways. As you rightly pointed out, its very religion/region based.

    @Sakhi : Thanks Sakhi. πŸ™‚ Legalizing it might create a different set of problems. Refer to my last reply to Shefaly and Rambodoc.
    And Thakuuuu so much. πŸ™‚

  40. Biologically speaking, incest will deteriorate the gene pool and hence more genetic disorders will prevail in the subsequent generations.

    But whats moral for us may be immoral for others. Incest itself is not a new thing or something to hate about but the very notion we have made is like as if its the worst sin of all.

    The situation here is more grave as the perpetrator himself was mentally tormented. How can you do justice now ? Was there anybody acting as guardian angel when the perpetrator was himself abused by his mother ? Nope, we just look on one side of the coin and always manage to miss the flip side.

    Did his wife took any action, am still perplexed that she wasn’t aware.

  41. @T : Now scientist have come up with the fact that it does not make such a big difference.
    The point is that if it is legalized, people like Fritlz can get away, because all they have to do is to armtwist someone to accept that it was consensual.
    His wife, surprisingly, stayed away from the media. Maybe she is too shocked to say anything…

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