The experiences of primary caregivers whose children/grandchildren were exposed to paternal incest
Saloojee, Melanie Fiona
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Paternal incest is the intimate sexual contact between biological, step or foster fathers and their children. These father-figures include the live-in partners of the non-offending mother. The actual incidence of paternal incest in South Africa is not known; however, the South African Police Services report the incidence of incest in the Western Cape for 2011/2012 to be the second highest in South Africa. When children reveal the incest to any person, this is called disclosure. After disclosure and with the removal of the paternal figure from the family unit, the mother or grandmother is responsible for the sole care of the child-victim and becomes the primary caregiver. However, in the South African context it is traditionally accepted that the grandmother assumes the role of primary caregiver of the child where the child’s mother and/or father are unable to fulfil their parental role adequately. Therefore in this study, “primary caregivers” refers to mothers and maternal grandmothers. In the South African context, limited studies have been done that explore the experiences of primary caregivers whose children or grandchildren were exposed to paternal incest. There is also a lack of information on how to support these primary caregivers in the abovementioned context. The aim of this study was firstly to explore the experiences of primary caregivers whose children or grandchildren were exposed to paternal incest and secondly to use these experiences to suggest guidelines that may be utilised by practitioners (such as social workers and registered counsellors) to develop support programmes for these caregivers. The research was conducted at a non-profit organisation in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, that provides psychosocial services and where cases of paternal incest are referred for intervention. A qualitative, phenomenological research design was applied in this study to obtain rich data. Six primary caregivers were chosen through purposive sampling, on the basis that their children or grandchildren were exposed to paternal incest within the last five years. Of these, four were mothers and two were maternal grandmothers who were responsible for the children. Data was collected through in-depth interviews and was analysed thematically. Two main themes emerged from the study. The first theme involved reactions to the disclosure and its aftermath, which encompassed emotional, cognitive and physiological reactions that are similar to secondary traumatisation. The second theme was coping strategies that emerged to deal with the disclosure and its aftermath, which encompassed effective coping strategies (behavioural coping strategies to actively solve problems and the presence of social support), unhealthy or negative coping strategies (behavioural coping strategies of avoidance) and threats to coping (a lack of social support). The contribution of this study lies in the suggestion of guidelines for the support of primary caregivers whose children or grandchildren were exposed to paternal incest. These guidelines include the provision of emotional support, multidisciplinary practitioner support and educational support programmes.
- Humanities