Dear Mr Yousaf,
As I have written in earlier petitions to the parliament regarding consensual adult incest (ACI) in Scotland, the law in its present form is inappropriate, unfair, ineffective and discriminatory.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I wish to go over the arguments I presented in my earlier petition to the Scottish parliament a few years ago, which may not have been seen by you or the public as the petition was rejected by the Public Petitions Committee before it had time to be circulated for public viewing.
The last review of the law of incest in Scotland came after a review of the Scottish Law
Commission (SLC) was published in 1981
Public fears, prejudice and bigotry about ACI are mostly due to ignorance created over
many years mostly by the church and church-influenced governments and
newspapers, in much the same way as public fears and bigotry about homosexuality
were created. In general, societies have a tendency to target isolated individuals and to
attack anything perceived to be different as a threat. The SLC report's argument for
keeping this out-dated law rests on four points: the central unifying one, (that
supposedly interconnects and reinforces the other three), was 'public opinion.'
Public opinion and public disgust with the very idea of incest was claimed to be the
principle reason why the Scots incest law should be maintained in its present (unfair
and discriminatory) form. I will discuss 'public opinion' before I come to the other three
Point One - Public Opinion.
Public opinion has changed dramatically since the 1980s when the report was written.
For example, many western countries have passed legislation that has reflected the
liberalization of attitudes to sex and relationships but this has not extended to ACI
relationships. France, and many others that adopted the Napoleonic code, legalized
consensual adult incest about 200 hundred years ago along with many other formerly
People's attitudes to human rights have changed a lot, especially with greater
awareness of the UN rules about human rights, more widespread knowledge of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and especially the right to personal and sexual
autonomy; fewer people, even the religious can afford to be so very moralistic and
judgmental as in the past, and most people are better educated, travel to more distant
places more often and are more tolerant and understanding of a great diversity of
cultures and types of sexual relationships than ever before.
When the report was written, no public opinion polls were taken about incest in
Scotland and claims that the report was based on public opinion are dubious at best;
i.e. the claims were unsubstantiated by any evidence. When contacted, the Public
Affairs – Crime and Justice team at IPSOS.com said "they are not aware of any poll that
has been conducted on this issue”.
The public at the time of the 1981 Scottish Law Commission report on incest may have
been ignorant of the law and conflated any healthy, happy and consensual adult incest
(non-coerced, non-abusive) relationships with the abusive, coercive, child abuse type of
incest. This ambiguity of meanings of the word incest may have been exploited in the
report, giving the impression that all incestuous acts are tainted with one universally
negative meaning. Of the few countries that the report compared Scots incest laws to,
only one of them (France) allows ACI but the report hid this fact, this important bit of
truth from the public, surreptitiously and disingenuously disguising it in legalese,
misleading anyone reading the report into thinking that all modern countries are
opposed to and criminalize adult consensual incest, which they indubitably are not and
As was the case with other types of relationship, incest was made into a taboo and
stigmatized, largely by the church, but it is still more common than one would think.
Point Two - Protection of the child and other family members
By definition, ACI does not involve anyone under the age of 21. Therefore it involves
only adults and excludes anyone under the legal age of consent, and even those a bit
older who still may be psychologically immature, and vulnerable to abuse but legally
adults in every respect. Children are protected from sexual and other abuse by other
laws, and there is no need for the double criminalization of the offence. In other
countries, such as England and Australia the crime of 'child sexual abuse' has replaced
the more stigmatizing and psychologically damaging term 'incest'. Victims of child
sexual abuse do not benefit from being stigmatized when associated with the taboo
word 'incest.' (Another reason why the present law needs reforming urgently).
Punishing ACI couples does nothing for the protection of the child or other family
members. If a parent goes to prison for ACI, it means if there are young children in the
family, they have lost the family income from the family breadwinner. If adult siblings
are involved in ACI, how can a jail sentence for them protect anyone else in the family?
The two are being punished for being in love with each other. It punishes the whole
family, and splits them up by denying it the income it could have derived from two
working adults, now sent to prison and humiliated. It is not protecting a family to
disgrace it and humiliate it, by associating it and other family members with criminal
sentencing of an ACI couple in the family and the stigma of incest.
Point Three - The Maintenance of Family Solidarity and Cohesion
The Report produced no evidence that ACI disturbs family cohesion or solidarity any
more than fornication, promiscuity, divorce, homosexuality, prostitution or adultery
does. All these acts are no longer subject to criminal punishment, as they may have
been under Ecclesiastical Law. Incest was a sin according to the Christian church and
under Ecclesiastical Law it was punished by various penances, and 'dispensations' (or
Point Four - The Genetic Argument
The criminalization of ACI sexual relationships because of a purported higher risk of
birth defects in children of close kin breeding does not stand up to rational argument.
According to Dr James A Roffee's paper (Incest in Scots Law: Missed Opportunities in
the Scottish Law Commission Review),
"the genetic argument has been assessed and disregarded in England and Wales. A
number of reasons in support of such a conclusion include: that genetics has not been
used as a past rationale; that there is great doubt as to the greatly increased risk of a
variety of diseases would justify a criminal offense; and that it was not significant in
achieving the aims of protection of family and children. If the incest law was justified on
the grounds of genetic defects of potential offspring, and thus override the sexual
autonomy principle, not only would this be a relatively remote concern it would also
have the added implication of labeling any defect caused to the offspring as a legal
Since all people who mate have a 2-3% chance of having a child with a birth defect,
(consanguineous couples are only marginally higher) then consistency in the law would
require criminalizing "all bad fruit-producing intercourse" and thus would criminalize the
large number of sexual acts that produced children with birth defects. It would
obviously be unjust and unfair to convict the parents of the 6% of children born with
birth defects each year world-wide. So why imprison a minuscule number of people in
ACI relationships who only have a slightly higher risk of having a child with a birth
defect than the general population does?
Thus there are no valid reasons to discriminate harshly against the ACI section of the
community on the basis of:
1. public opinion; 2. protection of the child and family 3. solidarity of the family and
community 4. genetic safety argument.
The Scots incest law perpetuates superstitious, bigoted outmoded beliefs but in its
present form, its continued existence is unjustified. The present Scots incest law does
not provide protection to all the children or adults in a family, but many, though
abused, gain a lifelong stigma, and psychological trauma though their persecutor, goes
'Scot free' because he or she did not violate a vagina with a penis, the only grounds for
an incest charge under the existing law.
However the law does unnecessarily and unfairly punish consensual adult incest,
breaching the rights to sexual autonomy for all consenting adults that is accepted in
other more developed countries.
The law of incest in Scots law should be reformed.
I thank you for reading the petition and hope that it might have helped you form a new opinion on the existing laws and the need for reform in that area.
Mr Yousaf, myself and the co-signatories of this petition hope that you will be able to take concrete action to help ameliorate the situation for CIAO people ( Adult Consensual Incest Oriented) in Scotland who currently live in fear of losing their freedom and their very lives in what can only be described in reality as an oppressive and intolerant regime.