archives, you & me

Incest: How Does That Word Make You Feel?


When you saw the title of this article, or the associated picture, what did you think? How did you feel? Did you want to open it up ,or did you want to move on?

​I have been working on a memoir. As I hung up from finalizing the cover to my upcoming memoir, my son asked a question that caught me off guard. He reviewed the cover, and then asked, “Are you writing this book to sell it, or are you writing it to help people?” I thought about his question for several moments before answering.

I said, I am hoping to help people, but if I could sell a few books along the way, that would be great too. He said, “Well, you might help some people, but no one will buy it with that word on the cover.” I couldn’t figure out which word he meant, and he quickly replied, “Incest.” He spoke the word with caution, with almost a whisper. It was just the two of us in the entire house. I wasn’t sure why he was so cautious and quiet.

Then he explained that people do not like the word Incest. He informed me that the word is taboo, and that it makes people uncomfortable. He felt that I needed to change the word so that I could sell my book. I thought a few moments before responding. I realized, in that moment, that my 18-year-old, who doesn’t watch the news much, was sharing with me what I am bothered most by our society, and he is right.

We don’t talk about incest. My son thought most people thinks it means sex between cousins. The official definition is the crime of having sexual intercourse with a parent, child, sibling or grandchild. This is what my childhood was: INCEST. Yes, all capital letters. It’s real, it happens, and he is right, we do not discuss it in our society.

That is one of the greatest taboos. We don’t talk about child sexual abuse (CSA), we don’t deal with it, and we don’t hear from anyone who has experienced it. Or in other words, there are many who don’t and can’t.  The more voices we hear, the braver we become.

This is one of the reasons that the #MeToo movement frustrated me. We tried to partner with #MeToo, but the reality is that people who are coming forward with #MeToo aren’t necessarily survivors of child sexual abuse (CSA). We are in the dark, we are in the shadows, we aren’t seen, and we are barely heard, solely because the topic is hard and the conversations are harder.

I ask people all the time, when they want to talk about my abuse, whether they are sure that they want to hear all the details.

One reporter asked why I ask that question. It’s simple, the details are unfathomable by the human mind. No one can understand why and how and who would do such things, and it’s harder to believe if the perpetrator is someone they know, a person in the military, someone of authority, family, and so forth.

“Do you know how lucky you are?” This is actually what a police officer said to me when they arrived at my mother’s home, the day that my mother called them to say that we had been sexually abused by our biological father.

I remember saying to him, “You call this lucky?” He went on to explain that most mothers do not stand by their children. They don’t believe their children or they don’t want to go against the man (father, stepfather, boyfriend, and so forth). Most would rather keep the man/woman, rather than turn them in.

The police officer also said that most human beings won’t believe our story of abuse or that our US Army Officer father could have done any of this to us. That incest isn’t talked about, and people would much rather turn a blind eye.

My son brought that all home for me that night. The reality is that I may not sell many books with INCEST on the cover. I told my son that night that I haven’t really ever cared for what people think and I am not going to start now. The time has come to start talking about it. The time has come for children to be heard and believed.

The time has come for my mother’s reaction and proactivity to be the norm and not the exception. The time has come for incest not being a taboo word anymore, rather something that we hear and discuss and listen and believe.

As we start out April 2018, Child Abuse Prevention month, the time has come to hear the voices, help those who haven’t found their voice to find their voice, and the time has come to be different and start changing by starting to talk, hear and listen. The time has come that we survivors of child sexual abuse don’t feel tarnished and shunned, but that we stand tall and get heard. It’s time for our voices to ring loud!

Please hear, see, and listen. Victims and survivors need us to change the world.

Being quiet and hidden is no longer an option. #BeLoudCSA #braveandunbroken


Pennie Saum is a voice-seeker, writer and blogger. She is candid regarding her abuse, and is actively involved in advocacy and changing laws to assure rights for other survivors of child sexual abuse. She is passionate about helping other victims cross the line into being survivors with a voice, as well as helping others embrace themselves and evolve. You could contact her via email, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.


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