Former child star Mackenzie Phillips' candid confession about her purported decade-long sexual relationship with her singer-father, John Phillips, has forced the uncomfortable issue of incest into the public limelight.
Since Phillips' public admission this week, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) has reported a 26 percent jump in its hotline calls and an 83 percent increase in traffic on its Web site.
It is not unusual for such a public confession to spur others to seek help, said Ajia Meux, a supervisor at RAINN, which is based in Washington, D.C.
"You know, whenever a person hears another person's story about being assaulted, that gives them the courage to come forward," Meux said. "So I imagine that hearing a celebrity disclose their abuse, that gives so many other people the courage to do it."
People are looking for support and guidance, said Meux, who has answered some of these calls.
"Anything from, 'This is the first time I've told someone' to 'I'm looking for help, resources, available counseling services, how to confront the family, how to confront the abuser,'" Meux said.
During an appearance on Oprah Winfrey's TV show this week, Phillips, 49, said more attention needs to be drawn to this issue.
"I know that I can't be the only one this has happened to," she told Winfrey. "Nobody's talking about this, and someone needs to put a face on not only nonconsensual incest but consensual incest."
The former star of the '70s sitcom "One Day at a Time" said that she was first raped by her father, the late lead singer of the the Mamas and the Papas, in a hotel room when she was 18 while passed out after a drug binge.
Reading an excerpt from her new book, "High on Arrival," on Winfrey's show, Phillips said of her first alleged sexual encounter with her father: "I woke up that night from a blackout to find myself having sex with my father. I don't know how it started."
Phillips said she continued to use drugs and have consensual sex with him for years, even after she married Jeff Sessler when she was 19.
Although many people said that Phillips, as a woman in her 20s, should have known better, some experts believe children of any age are incapable of consent because of the inherent power a parent has over a child.
"I don't think that it's fair to say that abuse that began at 17 is the fault of the child," Michael Bradley, a psychologist and author in the New Orleans area, said. "Typically, we find the abuse started much earlier in ways that were kind of borderline, slow steady, leading to these increasingly abusive behaviors."
Tiffani Wampler said it took her seven years to confront her father, who had been abusing her from the time she was 12.
"In no way was it consensual. I never wanted it," Wampler said. "But, then, there is that thing where I say, 'This is normal, I just have to take it.'"
The abuse continued for five years until Wampler got married, when it suddenly stopped. But two years later, she said, she was alone at dinner with her father when he attempted to rape her.
"Suddenly, it wasn't just about me and my family, and I wanted to make sure it didn't happen to anyone else," Wampler said.
Wampler sought help, and her father, Kerry Simer, is serving a 15-year sentence for aggravated sexual assault of a child. He has come up for parole twice and both times Wampler has fought it.