Sibling sexual abuse is a hidden and often under-reported form of sexual abuse. Studies indicate that sibling sexual abuse is more prevalent than other types of intra-familial sexual abuse. Due to the mostly close relationship and physical proximity between siblings, sibling sexual abuse is considered an opportunistic form of abuse.
Abusive siblings are often displaying problematic sexual behaviours or developmentally inappropriate behaviours that may be the result of victimisation they have encountered themselves - either witnessed or experienced. Abused siblings often do not disclose being abused due, among other things, to fear of not being believed, fear of upsetting parents, or confusion over their role in the abuse.
Current therapeutic frameworks suggest providing counselling for the whole family.
Despite an indication in the literature that sibling sexual abuse is the most prevalent form of sexual abuse, little is known about its impacts on abused siblings, abusive siblings and the families involved. This Research Summary into sibling sexual abuse will review the current literature on definitions, impacts, barriers to disclosure and legal issues in order to highlight this often hidden form of sexual abuse.
The review will also explore the literature on implications for therapeutic interventions - particularly the shift in thinking about sibling sexual assault and the abusive sibling from a punitive response to a much more therapeutic response. Definitions of sibling sexual abuse are varied and range from cultural, to therapeutic through to legal understandings.
However there are specific barriers related to the sibling relationship. Impacts of sibling sexual abuse are similar to other forms of child abuse Welfare, Due to a paucity of research concerning sibling sexual abuse, there is literature referenced here that relates to research conducted in the late s.
However, in more recent years sibling sexual abuse has begun to interest researchers and some reports and studies have been generated. This is due in part to clinical workers conducting research in order to bring the issue to light in response to their clients. This review also contains literature concerning problematic childhood sexual behaviours and the mental, physical and social sequelae of childhood sexual abuse.
The literature pertaining specifically to sibling sexual abuse summarised within considers work from international studies and Australian research. One of the most recent and comprehensive pieces of research is based on national police data, and comes from the United States. A brief historical overview of the predominant cultural and therapeutic beliefs associated with sibling sexual abuse illuminates why there is a paucity of research and why sibling sexual abuse remains a hidden form of abuse Welfare, The taboo goes as sibling sex games back as the ancient Greeks Pasco, However, there is evidence that sibling sexual abuse has been somewhat romanticised in the past, mainly in Romantic 1 literature Pasco, ; Rowntree, Culturally, sexual contact between siblings has been thought to contain innocent elements of age-appropriate sexual exploration.
This perhaps reflects a belief that sexual activity between young children is consensual, benign, without malice or without harm Welfare, It is only relatively recently that treatment guidelines for sexual abuse of any kind have been developed. The earliest treatment guidelines for father-daughter incest relied on Freudian constructions of the repressed sexual longings of children Welfare, Welfare noted that based on Kinsey's reports of the time, 2 a view was held by medical practitioners that the sexual abuse of children did not cause them harm.
Family strokes sister: scavenger sex game with sister
By the s, feminist theorists and clinicians began developing therapeutic techniques focused on the victim of abuse Welfare, There was a denial of the therapeutic needs of the abusing sibling however, and the view was that it was better to separate the family indefinitely than to risk the safety of the victim.
This meant that the theories and treatment strategies used were similar to those for treating adult paedophiles. There are some indicators that may sibling sex games useful in the identification of sibling sexual abuse for parents and professionals, however they are marked by inconsistencies between studies and cover cultural, therapeutic and legal frameworks.
Krienert and Walsh suggested that definitional inconsistencies create fractured knowledge that restricts policy-makers and therapeutic agents "from making informed decisions in the interest of reducing the prevalence and scope of sibling sexual abuse" p. Following is a discussion of the most debated and ificant aspects related to defining sibling sexual abuse contained in the reviewed literature.
National center on the sexual behavior of youth
The age gap that constituted abuse was 5 years or more. There is still debate around how big the age difference is before mutuality gives way to coercion but much of the literature indicates between years difference Carlson et al. In an Australian clinical sample study of 17 young women abused by their siblings, Welfare found that the average age difference was 4.
In another Australian study based on outcomes for the abusing child, Rayment-Hugh and Nisbet defined victim as a person under 13 years of age, and at least 3 years younger than their abuser. Monahan echoed this age difference and distinguishes consensual sex play from coercive sibling sexual assault on a difference of more than 3 years. Although age difference may be a good indicator in coercive sexual contact between children it is dangerous to ignore the fact that there can also be coercion between children of a sibling sex games age and McVeigh warned that age should not be the only indicator.
If the abusing child is physically larger than the victim they may use this strength to physically intimidate their victim, or they may just rely on threats. Further, as cited in Hatch and Hayman-Whiteage is of little consequence when sibling victims are chosen on the basis of their vulnerability, such as isolation, parental neglect, emotional dependence, smaller physicality or disability.
Although violence is not always present in sibling sexual abuse, coercion is certainly considered an identifying factor. In one case study, a young girl was "tricked" into sexual acts by her brother who originally offered physical comfort through hugs and other non-sexual physical contact and eventually escalated the physical contact to include sexual acts Ballantine, He did not need to coerce her more forcefully as she was vulnerable due to her "harsh family environment … and the family's low opinion of her" p. For example, the abuse may begin with unwanted sexual comments to unwanted genital touching and evolve to forced penetration Carlson et al.
Developmentally inappropriate behaviour and problematic sexual behaviours can be distinguished as twoalthough there is cause to consider some overlap between them. For the purpose of this paper they will be separated and problematic sexual behaviour will be presented in the section below. Although a sibling sex games is being made, both can be present in who has been victimised in the past. Developmentally inappropriate sexual behaviour refers to behaviour that is not in line with 's physical and mental development.
It can be a result of a family environment that allows exposure to highly sexual language and media or is extremely tolerant to sexual contact and activity Hatch, An Australian Crime Commission report O'Brien, cautioned that more research is needed into child sibling sex games in order to understand what is and is not developmentally inappropriate. However any definitional contain the risk of pathologising childhood sexuality by determining too stringent guidelines as to which behaviours are appropriate for which age groups O'Brien, O'Brien warned that "researchers need to resist the apparent comfort offered by fixed definitions or exhaustive lists" p.
Nonetheless, some broad definitions are included in the report and are presented below in Table 1.
There is an element of secrecy in sibling sexual abuse that is enforced by the child with problematic sexual behaviour - as well as a power dynamic McVeigh, The field of study related to child and adolescent problematic sexual behaviours is becoming more relevant as the high prevalence of child sexual abuse becomes known and issues of how to respond to children who display problematic sexual behaviours are discussed. Two recent reports by the Australian Crime Commission O'Brien, ; highlighted the importance of separating the sexually abusive behaviours from the child in order that abusive siblings are given an opportunity to change their behaviours see Box 1.
Sources: Pratt et al. Certain family environments may have a negative effect on children that lead them to enact problematic sexual behaviours against their siblings. Exposure to pornography or other sexually explicit material can sibling sex games to children "copying" the behaviours they have seen. Similarly, permissive boundaries around sexual language and sexual behaviour may also have an effect Hatch, Based on case studies of sibling sexual assault victims, one researcher stated that a patriarchal environment, which relies on traditional values, may create the context for sibling sexual abuse Ballantine, The terminology used to describe the behaviours of children who sexually transgress against their peers or family members is a difficult but important consideration.
In order for the child who displays problematic sexual behaviours to separate the abusive act from who they are, it is important to use language that separates the abusive behaviour from the. For example, terms such as "perpetrator" and "offender" label the .
For : sex games siblings
Conversely, using terms such as "abusive behaviour" or "child who displays problematic sexual behaviour" lessens the stigma and offers potential to change the behaviour O'Brien, Although duration of abuse is not strictly a definitional aspect of sibling sexual abuse, studies have indicated that duration is a feature because siblings live together and the abusing sibling has access to their victim Hatch, Hatch pointed out that the close proximity of siblings also marks sibling sexual abuse possibly as an opportunistic crime - indicating that there is little difference between those who abuse siblings and non-siblings except for sibling availability Welfare, Women's Health Statewide conducted a study of 18 women who had been abused by their brothers and found that the longest period of abuse lasted 10 years, and the least for 1 year.
The average abuse period was 5 years. Welfare found in her sample of 17 women abused by their siblings at different ages, but predominantly early adolescence, that the average length of sibling sex games abused was 4. The abuse ceased when:. Children with a physical disability are more vulnerable to abuse than able-bodied children Higgins, Sexual abuse may also occur if one child is not aware or does not have the ability to be aware that another child is receiving sexual gratification from an interaction Pratt et al. Although there are studies that define sibling sexual abuse as possibly occurring between brother and sister, sister and sister, or brother and brother, the most common type of sibling sexual abuse occurs between a brother and a sister, with the brother as the abusing sibling Carlson et al.
Cases that come to the attention of the authorities may also not sibling sex games typical of the types of abuses occurring but it is difficult to know for sure. Additionally, national surveys such as the Personal Safety Survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics do not include siblings as a category for intra-familial sexual abuse - or siblings are incorporated under the heading "family member" and therefore not separately identifiable.
National center on the sexual behavior of youth
The studies that do present prevalence data put sibling sexual abuse as more common than other forms of intra-familial sexual abuse Monahan, ; Pratt et al. Caffaro and Conn-Caffaro estimated that sibling sexual abuse occurred "three to five times as often as the most frequently cited form" p. Further research is important to ascertain a clearer picture of prevalence in order to create awareness.
Historically, sibling sexual abuse, when discovered, was considered natural sexual experimentation between siblings and treated as benign and without impacts Welfare, However, the impacts of sibling sexual abuse are similar to other forms of child sexual abuse. Issues of disclosure will be discussed later in the summary.
For : sex games siblings
Sexual abuse victims of any kind often display trauma symptoms such as intrusion, hyper-arousal and disassociation 4 Boyd, ; Herman, A study by Ullman quantified the effects of a negative response to disclosure of sexual abuse and found that those who received a negative reaction to disclosure had higher rates of and more post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms than those who received a more positive and validating response Welfare, The close nature of the relationship between siblings often exacerbates the impacts for victims.
Other impacts may also be evident, such as guilt, humiliation Thompson, and shame Ballantine, There are also interpersonal difficulties.
These interpersonal impacts appear to be idiosyncratic to sibling sexual abuse as found by three studies - RussellDoyleand Caffaro and Conn-Caffaro - who attributed the problems to the minimisation of sibling sexual abuse by the abusing sibling, family members and professionals Welfare,