CE36 - Santé Publique

Telling, Hearing and Reporting Incestuous Violence – DERVI

Submission summary

Despite public condemnation, incestuous violence persists: 5 to 6% of children are victims of sexual assault by a family member.
At the crossroads of socio-historical, legal and anthropological studies, the multidisciplinary research project DERVI will take up the issue of incest by focusing, in an innovative way, on its disclosure, its practice and its links with the social group. DERVI will study critical moments of the unveiling of incest at variable scales (families, institutional networks, media), contexts (family, judicial, administrative, media, literary), according to multiple modalities (revelation, denunciation, testimony, report, detection, stories, "affairs") and relative to distinct repercussions (indignation, indifference, denial, scandal). Who says or shows what? Who hears what and when? Who reports it? And what are the terms through which incest is disclosed? How is it received? Answers to these questions will help to understand what allows or prevents the telling and hearing of incest today.
In order to address these questions, DERVI seeks to bring incest out of the shadows. This will involve: 1. studying it from an interdisciplinary point of view; 2. allowing anthropologists to take up contemporary incestuous violence diachronically; 3. dismantling current representations of incest as an extraordinary act, in order to bring out its ordinary character; 4. not isolating incest as a unique act, but rather to situate it in relation to other forms of violence toward children; 5. thinking incest within a larger configuration, exceeding the expected pairing of daughter victim / father aggressor, and to take into account the diversity of the aggressors as well as their proximity.
DERVI will combine long-term ethnographic fieldwork and historical approaches, based on qualitative and quantitative analysis. It will complete its aims through four tasks: 1. understanding the process of the revelation of incest and its care through ethnographic fieldwork in a childhood protection unit, and in the juvenile court. 2. understanding incestuous violence in a legal context by questioning legal, penal and socio-cultural specificities in a comparatist and long-term perspective (criminal doctrine, legislation and judicial archives, 18th-21st centuries); 3. understanding the medical interpretations and their diffusion in the public space through the study of the discourse about incestuous violence from the beginning of alienist medicine up to today (expert reports and medical theory, medical discourse in the media and testimonial literature, 18th-21st centuries); 4. understanding incestuous violence in its social and cultural dimensions through analysis of its place in the public sphere (testimonies and media discourses of incest, 19th-21st centuries).
DERVI will guarantee the valorization and the dissemination of the results both in the academic and scientific community, as well as in the institutional, civil (National Department of Education, children’s police department, child welfare system, victims' associations, etc.), media and political domains.
One of the aims of this research project is to re-inscribe incest within the field of social sciences. By doing so, it might offer new knowledge that could be useful to social workers and institutions in order to rethink some their practices, their prevention awareness campaigns, as well as to develop new means of detection and prevention. The results of DERVI will inform public action as well as contribute to the briefing of officials and political representatives in the process of decision-making and reflection on legal frameworks. In doing so, DERVI will contribute to fighting violence against women and children, which is a goal being mobilized on a global scale.

Project coordination

Léonore Le Caisne (Institut Marcel Mauss IMM)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


UR 3550 Centre d’Histoire Contemporaine du XIXe siècle
IMM - UMR8178 Institut Marcel Mauss IMM

Help of the ANR 412,596 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2018 - 48 Months

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