Mother-Son Incest: Hidden in Shame and Rising

Gregg Milligan, and his mother.

The molestation began as gentle fondling when Gregg Milligan was 4 years old, but it soon escalated to aggressive touching and eventually beatings that would render him unconscious.

For seven years, until Michigan child welfare workers intervened when he was 11, Milligan was too ashamed to reveal that his tormentor was his own mother.

"She was very brutal," said Milligan. "Through her difficulty reaching climax, she would become frustrated and violent, hitting and punching and slapping not only my genitals, but my face and body."

"It was terribly confusing, and it wasn't just the violation," said Milligan, now 46, and director of infrastructure for a major health care provider in Michigan.

As bad as the incest was, things got worse. Milligan's father had left when he was 2, but by the time he was 8, his mother, an alcoholic and a prostitute, invited strange men home who would sexually abuse him.

"Back then I would never tell anyone, not even a sibling," said Milligan, the most "compliant and sensitive" of three children living at home. "I was just too afraid. It was so horrendous for me to believe she actually would do this to me."

One of the unspeakable secrets in the world of child sexual abuse is that mothers can be molesters. Often, they prey on daughters, but more frequently their sons -- who report increased feelings of isolation and sexual confusion along with thoughts of suicide.

Both of Milligan's parents are now dead, but his past still haunts him.

"Around 10 years old, I started to get this unbelievable feeling of dread that if I don't get out I am going to die from the decadence, the debauchery, the forced molestations and the beatings that became more severe," he said. "For three months I suffered from hysterical paralysis."

An estimated one in four girls and one in seven boys will be sexually assaulted or abused before the age of 18, according to the Alabama-based National Children's Advocacy Center . In 27 percent of these cases, the abuse is perpetrated by the child's parents.

Previous studies of day care workers published in 2000 in the Journal of Sex Research, found that women -- without male accomplices -- accounted for only about 6 percent of the abuse of females and 14 percent of males.

But more recent national surveys indicate about 12 percent of all child abuse cases are committed by women -- "a 100 percent increase compared with previous data," according to Chris Newlin, NCAC's executive director.

"We view females as care givers and protectors of children," he told ABCNews.com. "Now we are beginning to understand females are sexually abusing children, and it is occurring much more."

Professionals are stymied by public perception that incest is "an ugly subject," and that women can't commit such crimes.

"If it's a 35-year-old female and a 14-year-old boy, we'd say the boy is getting lucky," said Newlin. "And if it was a 35 year-old male and a 14-year-old girl, we'd call that a pervert."

Mother-Son Incest Often Unreported

And boys like Milligan aren't often believed.

"We have this overarching thing that goes back to the Salem witch trials of children making up stories," said Newlin. "You can't trust kids."

Survivors like Milligan say that these crimes often go unnoticed, not just because society can't imagine women as aggressors, but because boys feel riddled with shame.

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