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Lynn Sacco

Lynn Sacco, an assistant professor in the Department of History, published her first book, Unspeakable: Father-Daughter Incest in American History, in July. The book uses sources from medicine, law, social reform, and popular culture to document both the occurrence of incest and the noisy silence around the subject. Sacco argues that as scientific breakthroughs in the 1890s improved doctors’ ability to detect gonorrhea, their social biases diminished their ability to see the obvious evidence before them. When they discovered evidence that gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease, was “epidemic” among all classes of girls—not just girls from socially marginalized families—health care professionals and reformers revised their views about gonorrhea, not incest. Sacco shows how shifts in attitude about incest were shaped to justify the social hierarchy by associating a proclivity to engage in heinous behaviors like father-daughter incest with men of color, immigrants, and the poor.