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What is Incest?

By Lori Smith
Updated May 16, 2024
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Incest is a sexual act that occurs between people who are related to each other by blood. Consent is usually not a factor. A brother and sister who choose to engage in an intimate encounter, for example, are committing incest because they share a close bloodline. Serious legal ramifications often arise when one of the individuals is a minor, such as in the case of a parent and child, or an uncle and niece. In cases like this, the adult can be charged with serious sex crimes.

When two people related only by marriage and not by a bloodline engage in sexual activity, it is generally not considered an incestuous relationship, even though it may create dissension among other family members. This is more common when stepbrothers and stepsisters are close in age and living in the same home. A stepfather who engages in sexual congress with his stepdaughter may not be committing incest, either. He can be charged with child abuse, sexual assault or other crimes, however, if she is a minor.

Incest often occurs as a form of abuse. Most commonly, it involves a minor child, but not always. A family member might sexually assault someone who is elderly, mentally or physically handicapped, or otherwise unable to object or defend himself. If another member of the household is aware of the abuse and fails to protect the victimized person, then that individual may also be charged with a crime. Many times, however, when people turn a blind eye to an inappropriate and abusive situation, they also may be victims of the aggressors.

When a consensual sexual relationship exists between adult family members, some jurisdictions still consider it a crime. In most cases, even it it isn't classified as a crime, it is illegal for them to marry. Distant relatives, such as cousins, are more likely to engage in this type of consensual correlation. Furthermore, a sexual relationship, and even marriage, between two cousins is legal in certain jurisdictions. The occurrence of incest among cousins is often more prevalent in smaller towns, especially when there is limited exposure to others.

Different cultures may have alternate views about incest. In many areas, it is considered a taboo act. People engaging in this type of relationship are often shunned by their peers. Other communities are more tolerant of intimacy between cousins or distant relatives.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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