To the editors:
Hearty applause is due the four courageous clients of Attorney Hope Keefe, and gratitude to Keefe as well. ("The Law of Incest," 7/19). These survivors of incest are boldly choosing one newly available and promising avenue of recourse by suing their parents as the perpetrators of the incest in an attempt to hold them accountable legally, as well as emotionally and financially. As a clinical social worker who works with adult survivors of incest in individual and group psychotherapy, I welcomed Florence Hamlish Levinsohn's article. It is encouraging to see the state of Illinois moving in the right direction by extending the statute of limitations law regarding incest suits. Clearly, this legal option is not right for every survivor. However, the more choices adult survivors have at their command, the more opportunities they gain for taking control of their own lives--an essential right which was stolen from them as children when they were sexually abused.
I admire Attorney Keefe's dedication in battling a legal system which has historically blamed the victim when it comes to the abuse of women and children. I would like to offer an additional comment concerning Keefe's statement on the damage inflicted upon victims of incest: "They are really deprived, probably for the rest of their lives, of normal loving relationships." It is somewhat understandable but truly unfortunate that in order to build the strongest legal case possible the court must be convinced of the plaintiff's damaged self and inability to cope when, ironically, it is only through such monumental survival skill and strength that a woman is able to publicly confront those closest to her who have harmed her and pursue the long arduous rigors of a court case.
While the severity of the incest trauma and its lifelong impact should never be underestimated, it would be misleading for readers to believe that all incest survivors are forever denied fulfilling love relationships and whole lives. To the contrary, my therapeutic work with survivors continues to reaffirm my belief in the human capacity for love and resilience. Many women can and do put their lives back together again after incest, through hard work, a process of self-empowerment and sheer guts. I see it every day. And from that we can all gain inspiration and hope.
Shisha Amabel, LCSW