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Sibling Abuse

Posted by Sara Cooper | Jun 26, 2023 | 0 Comments

You might've heard of this phrase before:

“But we're a family!”

I know that I have. It's the way mistreatment or abuse can be excused, and it's easier to accept despite the anger that's built up.

We can only imagine children who endure abuse from a sibling or a peer at school and viewing bruises on the arm or sensitivity to light as “kids just being kids” can only go so far. It's why the cycle continues.

With the national, hidden epidemic of sibling abuse, the agency a minor has is miniscule in comparison to their abuser, even if it is another minor. Sibling bonds have the longest span of relationships, and children facing abuse comes up to 80% during their period of youth, according to The National Foundation To End Child Abuse and Neglect.

The average age for the female children of the family to be victims of sexual abuse is nine years old, and if the older brother is the abuser, the offending typically starts between twelve to fourteen years old (Caffaro, 2017). Younger male victims of abuse tend to also be offended by the older brother, it's seen as a connection to learn “how to be a man.” I think to myself, why does violence equate to masculinity? To see generational trauma through youth that did not accept this treatment in order to be accepted?

Currently, the only way to bring sibling violence or abuse to the attention of authorities is for a parent to file charges against the abuser on behalf of the victim (Eriksen and Jensen, 2006). Shifting legislation from state to state could make this approach change, but blending in the factors of sibling abuse hinders its seriousness. Kettrey and Emery (2006) state that the interchangeable use of terms in the literature such as sibling abuse, violence, aggression, conflict, and rivalry neutralizes the intensity of sibling abuse and may contribute to its lack of recognition as a significant and distinct phenomenon. This is because there's a lack of data and reporting on sibling abuse, and the protections minors have to speak out for are not in place to learn more about familial violence. Most of the time, when the victims become adults, their memory of what happened to them can be blurred due to cognitive issues and fear of humiliation.

If minors are convicted of sibling abuse, they are not considered to be juvenile sex offenders and are treated with rehabilitation approaches. Typically, main causes of sibling abusers are watching pornography from an early age, neglect and abuse from the parents/guardians, being intensely intrigued by life experiences that adults have and not children, and isolation from society. Counselors who work with sex offenders and minors who are abusers help them by placing them in programs; minors completing these programs before the age of 18 are less at risk of recidivism. Without treatment at a young age, “juvenile sex offenders” can easily become adult sex offenders. Help is NECESSARY in order to prevent recidivism and more harm on others.

It's already an isolating dilemma to see youth have disparities in their education, nutrition, and opportunities to be creative. Their safety is never guaranteed in the United States, and it can be violated within the home. The prevention of abuse and assault comes from excellent adult provision and ensuring there is not a power dynamic between the siblings. Assessing and checking in with your child on their emotional needs and physical health is key to their wellbeing, no matter if things “seem to be good.”

Supporting Documents:

John Caffaro (2017). Treating Adult Survivors of Sibling Sexual Abuse: A Relational Strengths-Based Approach. Journal of Family Violence, 32(5), 543–552. doi:10.1007/s10896-016-9877-0 

Meyers, A. (2015). Lifting the veil: The lived experience of sibling abuse. Qualitative Social Work, (), 1473325015612143–. doi:10.1177/1473325015612143 

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