Incest Survivors Anonymous is an oddity to me. It started in 1980, just a shade before Survivors of Incest Anonymous. The two groups have nearly the same name. They both use the same twelve steps and twelve traditions, for the same purpose.

And what a specific purpose. As I write this, there are no twelve-step groups that are specifically for recovery from emotional abuse, domestic violence, physical abuse, neglect.... But there are at least three that specifically focus on child sexual abuse (apparently there's an Incest Anonymous as well) and one of them (SIA) merged with a fourth (Sexual Abuse Anonymous) back in 1989. There is also a Canadian program called Sexual Assault Recovery Anonymous, which is a non-profit society that does outreach and group therapy for sexual assault using the twelve-step model without actually being a twelve-step program.

This is not so terribly unusual; there are at least six different programs for dealing with sex and love addiction, and at least eight for issues with food. The subtle differences that distinguish ISA are as follows:

  • It was founded July 15, 1980, which may make it the first incest-related twelve-step group to emerge.
  • It began in Long Beach, California, over three thousand miles from its eventual counterparts.
  • All its meetings are open to teens, where SIA is closed to teens unless otherwise specified because they were founded in a state where everyone is a mandatory reporter.
  • No one who has ever perpetrated sexual abuse or identifies as a Satanist is allowed at any ISA meetings. (Which is a violation of the third tradition, which states that "the only requirement for I.S.A. membership is a desire to stop being an incest victim and become in incest survivor.")
  • None of their meetings are listed online, nor do they have an email contact. Interested parties have to call a Long Beach phone number or write a letter to their post office box, and wait for information.
  • Where SIA defines incest in one simple statement, as any overt or covert sexual contact with a child, ISA has a lengthy and detailed statement. It amounts to the same thing, but lists every possible relationship from parent to postal worker and every kind of sexual contact they could think of.
  • While other incest-related groups like SIA have struggled with fear around listing their meetings publicly, ISA takes it a step further. Not only do they not list meetings, but the copyright statement on each page asks people not to link to their site.

    And yes, they do indeed consider incest to be any sexual contact with any child, not just a close blood relative. The idea behind it is that in their experience, while living with an abuser causes its own problems, the betrayal of a child's trust by sexualizing them in some way causes a broad range of serious harm no matter who causes it.

    The program's language is powerful, and many ISA-turned-SIA meetings retain the readings they got from ISA. Their meeting scripts talk about sharing our experience, strength, and hope in order to "face the reality of our memories, walking through them to the other side, learning to love and nurture the hurt little child or children within us." They talk about respecting the people in multiple systems, and learning to live in "safety, peace, and serenity." But whether the program can survive with so little outreach remains to be seen.

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