Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Women often are blamed for paternal incest. Although the notion of women's culpability is repeated so often in the literature that it has all the tranquility of an axiom, few studies have even used these women as subjects. This study sought to remedy that flaw by using as its subjects 20 women from paternally incestuous families. Each participated in an in-depth interview comprised of life history questions, and in a shorter follow-up interview.

The women reported a moderate degree of conflict between their roles as mother and wife. Their strategies for coping with that conflict were categorized according to the level of the role process at which they intervened, but the level of coping strategy was not significantly related to the duration of the paternal incest, although it was to its severity.

The women as wives varied in their traditionally as measured by a behavioral index. Traditionality was not significantly related to the duration or the severity of the paternal incest, nor to the preferred type of coping strategy. Analysis also showed that the women as wives had either a female-subordinate or a divided marital power type. No significant relationship was found between marital power type and the duration or the severity of the incest, although one was discovered between marital power type and coping strategy.

The women as mothers also varied in their protectiveness of their daughters upon the discovery or disclosure of the paternal incest. That degree of maternal power, in turn, varied across the strategies for coping.

These findings contrasted with the conclusions that infuse the literature on paternal incest. The failure to show significant relationships between the women in their role as mother and as wife and the duration or the severity of the paternal incest called into question axioms about collusion and culpability. The findings also showed that these women could be placed along an empowerment continuum that defined not only their unique approaches to role-taking and role-making, but their efficacy in coping, and in exercising marital and maternal power.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access