What is sibling sexual abuse? Like all forms of sexual abuse, sibling sexual abuse is an abuse of power. If a more powerful or stronger sibling, bribes or threatens a weaker sibling to engage in sexual activity–albeit the aggressor might be younger–it is sexual abuse. It is abuse because it does not take into consideration the needs or wishes of the victim; rather, it meets the needs of the other person at the victim’s expense.
“Incest is both sexual abuse and an abuse of power. It is violence that does not require force. Another is using the victim, treating them in a way that they do not want or in a way that is not appropriate by a person with whom a different relationship is required. It is abuse because it does not take into consideration the needs or wishes of the child; rather, it meets the needs of the other person at the child’s expense. If the experience has sexual meaning for another person, in lieu of a nurturing purpose for the benefit of the child, it is abuse. If it is unwanted or inappropriate for her age or the relationship, it is abuse. Incest [sexual abuse] can occur through words, sounds, or even exposure of the child to sights or acts that are sexual but do not involve her. If she is forced to see what she does not want to see, for instance, by an exhibitionist, it is abuse. If a child is forced into an experience that is sexual in content or overtone that is abuse. As long as the child is induced into sexual activity with someone who is in a position of greater power, whether that power is derived through the perpetrator’s age, size, status, or relationship, the act is abusive. A child who cannot refuse, or who believes she or he cannot refuse, is a child who has been violated.” (E. Sue Blume, Secret Survivors).
The aggressor usually reinforces the sibling trust of the targeted victim, and then violates that trust in order to commit the abuse. The aggressor may use force, the threat of force, bribery, the offer of special attention, or a gift to make the victim keep the abuse secret.
In sibling sexual abuse, the victim and the abuser are siblings, half-siblings, step-siblings or siblings by adoption. As in other forms of sexual abuse, sibling sexual abuse does not involve sexual touching. The aggressor may force two or more children to engage in sexual activity with one another. The aggressor may force the siblings to watch sexual activity or pornographic videos. The aggressor may also abuse them repeatedly watching them dress, shower or using the toilet.
As in any sexual abuse by a family member sibling sexual abuse is harmful for the following reasons:
o The victim feels pressured and trapped by the abuser. This pressure includes bribes, sexual stimulation or physical force. Self-esteem is impacted immeasurably.
o The victim feels betrayed, because someone they expect to love and care for them is harming them in the worst way possible. In addition, because children inherently believe a parent will protect them from all harm, and when they are harmed by a sibling, the victim feels betrayed twice–once by his/her sibling and by their parents. They might even believe that the parents think the abuse is acceptable–further adding to the emotional harm.
o The victim may feel responsible, bad or dirty–thus engendering feelings of guilt, shame and humiliation about their body, sexuality and personhood.
o Sibling abuse causes more damage than abuse by a stranger. This is because children are dependent for years on their families and on parents to keep them safe. Studies of convicted teenage sexual abuse offenders show that the sibling offenders commit more serious abuse over a longer period of time than other teenage offenders. This is so because the victims–brothers or sisters–are readily available, they are available for longer periods and the aggressors are protected by the enforced secrecy.
If you know or suspect that one of your children is being sexually abused by a sibling, you need to make an intervention by contact a professional who specializes in sexual abuse prevention and recovery. If you allow the abuse and secrecy to continue, because you think, ‘all children experiment sexually,’ or ‘it is just a phase, they will grow out of it,’ you are no less responsible for the outcome of the sibling sexual abuse than the sibling aggressor. Thus, the damage is on-going rather than short lived. Furthermore, by making an intervention, you are clearly and emphatically stating the behavior is unacceptable and both children are given an opportunity to heal.
The majority of sibling sexual abuse is initiated because of a trauma the aggressor has experienced–and it is generally their own sexual abuse–albeit you may be unaware.