The Cradle of Abuse: Evaluating the Danger Posed by a Sexually Predatory Parent to the Victim's Siblings

67 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2002


Despite unmistakable evidence that incestuous parents rarely stop with one child, courts in the US and elsewhere routinely fail to protect an incest victim's siblings. Many courts simple deny that a parent's sex act with one child signals risk to others. But even those courts that acknowledge a sibling's risk reach wildly different results when confronting similar cases. Courts are split over whether a parent who molests his stepchild is equally likely to victimize biological offspring or whether a father who violates a daughter will also victimize sons. Courts reach such fundamentally different conclusions because they operate in a vacuum of sound evidence, without the benefit of expert testimony. This article argues that the substantial body of research about sexually exploited children and incestuous parents can aid courts to better gauge a sibling's risk. Because the first act of incest creates a corresponding risk of some - but not all - children in the family, this article argues in favor of a presumption of risk that offenders may rebut. It then examines whether a sibling's gender or genetic ties to the offender, or the offender's treatment, mitigate the threat and consequently should serve as a basis for rebutting the presumption. The article ultimately concludes the law can safeguard children from this threat of sexual exploitation only if guided by substantial evidence of how abusive families function.

Keywords: State intervention, child protection, abuse and neglect, judicial decisionmaking, social science evidence, risk factor, incest, child sexual abuse

Suggested Citation

Wilson, Robin Fretwell, The Cradle of Abuse: Evaluating the Danger Posed by a Sexually Predatory Parent to the Victim's Siblings. Emory Law Journal, Vol. 51, No. 1, p. 241, 2002. Available at SSRN: or

Robin Fretwell Wilson (Contact Author)

University of Illinois College of Law ( email )

504 E. Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820
United States
217.244.7582 (Phone)


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