If your family tree doesn’t branch, you might be a redneck…

If you go to family reunions to meet girls, you might be a redneck…

They have a new law in West Virginia. If you get a divorce that’s OK. You’re still brother and sister.

–Comedian Jeff Foxworthy

Jokes about inbreeding among country families have been around for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, like many jokes, they have some basis in fact.

In high school in 1962, I remember a female classmate who started to gain some weight and suddenly "went away" to take care of a sick relative. She wemt away because she was pregnant by an uncle. She was 16.  Another got pregnant from her father.

In Floyd County Circuit Court two years ago, I listened as a local grandfather, convicted of sexually molesting his granddaughter, tell the judge: "Your honor, I love my granddaughter. I guess I just love her too much."  In the sentencing hearing of another case, an 18-year-old boy convicted of sexually molesting his younger sister, a relative told the judge: "He’s just going through a phase that all teenage boys go through."

Incest is a sad fact of life, not just in Floyd County but nationwide.  The National Center for Victims of Crime reports:

Father-daughter and stepfather-daughter incest is most commonly reported, with most of the remaining reports consisting of mother/stepmother-daughter/son incest. Prevalence of parental child sexual abuse is difficult to assess due to secrecy and privacy; some estimates show 20 million Americans have been victimized by parent incest as children.

But even that number may be low. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) reports that 60 percent of incest cases may go unreported.

Over the last four years, I’ve covered more than a dozen cases of incest in Floyd County Circuit Court. Too many of those guilty of incest went free because of the poor prosecution record of the previous Commonwealth’s Attorney Gordon Hannett.  Most of the 19 sex offenders who live in Floyd County and who are listed in the Virginia Sexual Offender Database are there because of sexual crimes against family members.  Some who went to prison are back on the street.  I saw the grandfather who loved his granddaugher "too much" eating breakfast in the Blue Ridge Restaurant the other day.

Current Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Shortt won her job by promising, among other things, to put sexual offenders away. For the most part, she’s delivered on that promise although she did cut a deal earlier this year that let one walk on probation. She said didn’t want to put the victim on the stand in open court and that might have done more damage than good.

But Shortt and the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department cannot put these animals away if people keep incest hidden as a dirty little secret that no one likes to talk about.  For too many families, the shame of incest is too embarrassing to reveal. They live with the secret and hide their shame.

So they keep it all in the family…which is where the problem starts.