Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Missouri Incest Case Raises Questions for All of Us

In the last week, six members of a single family in Independence, Missouri have been arrested on charges based on absolutely horrifying allegations of child molestation, incest, and abuse.  The allegations come from adult children in the family, and involves years and years of abuse, child pregnancy, forced abortion, and possibly murder.  The accused are a father, his four sons, and his brother.  I would describe my own reaction to this case as revulsion.

As with the Shaniya Davis case, these allegations turn our ideas of how parents and families are supposed to work on their heads.  We don't fear for our own safety or the safety of our children, so much as we are repulsed by what a parent whose job it is to protect a child is accused of doing to that child.  Our reaction is not to the bogey-man who endangers our kids, but more to a sense that the world has gone crazy.

This case adds another layer, however, that has taken me a week of reading the coverage to put my finger on.  Whenever someone does something horrible to someone else, we have to face the notion that there are people out there who do awful things.  But in this case, there wasn't just one bad guy, there were, allegedly, six.  While we can imagine that there are six people with these disgusting proclivities out there in the world, furthermore, these six are related to each other.  That means that they did not form a group around their criminal activity, but entered into that activity as a group.

The natural conclusion is that people can be taught to behave this way.  The two oldest accused were brothers, and either were taught this by someone else or learned it together.  The four sons, it would seem, learned it from their father and uncle.  These actions, which we all perceive instinctively as evil, were not mutations that happened in a single person.  They were passed from one person to another.  And if that is possible, then, on a gut level, we must realize that all of us have the capacity, under the right circumstances, to do that kind of evil.

This case doesn't make us fear for our children.  It doesn't make us fear for our safety.  What is, perhaps, the most revolting thing about this case is the possibilities it points to in ourselves.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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