In September 2009, Mackenzie Phillips revealed an explosive family secret for the first time. For years, she'd been involved in an incestuous relationship with her famous father, John Phillips. Since then, Jennifer Wilson, director of the national sexual assault hotline for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), says more survivors have found the courage to come forward. Jennifer reveals how Mackenzie has helped raise awareness. Plus, what you need to know about this underreported crime.
Q: Since Mackenzie first spoke out about her incestuous relationship, what sort of response have you seen at RAINN?
Jennifer Wilson: We've definitely seen an increase in our hotline traffic. The calls that we get to see personally here at RAINN are the ones on our online hotline . We've definitely seen in an increase in sessions. People are coming forward, talking about abuse when they were younger and abuse from family members.
Q: What's the difference between the online and phone hotlines?
JW: The online hotline is accessed through our website. They can go to RAINN.org 24/7. And it's instant messaging based. And it's secure, confidential and anonymous. It's a live, real-time support crisis intervention the same way a phone hotline would be, except it's online.
We find that a lot of people do use the online hotline who aren't ready to talk. They can't talk about it out loud. We see it as a precursor to a phone hotline.
Q: At first, when Mackenzie discussed the sexual relationship she had with her father, she called it consensual. Now, she's saying that's the wrong term for what it was. Can you explain why?
JW: Usually, we don't put names or labels on people's personal experiences. … A lot of times people stay in incest relationships, and the reason [it] often takes place is the power dynamic that's present. People come to terms at different points in the healing process. It seems as though, from what I've read, she's talked to a lot of people since first coming out and saying it was consensual. [She's] really realizing that there were other dynamics there that wouldn't necessarily allow that relationship to be consensual on any level.