Sibling abuse can be defined as inappropriate behavior among siblings related by marriage, blood, adoption, or living arrangement. This conduct constitutes any behaviors that are not considered age or develop-mentally appropriate. Sibling abuse usually falls in one of three categories: inappropriate sexual behavior or contact, acts of violence or aggression, or psychological maltreatment. These three forms of abuse are not mutually exclusive: Any combination of the three can be found in a sibling abusive relationship. The general assumption is that psychological maltreatment precedes other forms of abuse and often sets the stage for abuse to occur.
Sibling sexual abuse may be defined as a compulsive inappropriate sexual activity toward a sibling extending over a period of time. It may include, but is not limited to, sexual touching, fondling, indecent exposure, attempted penetration, intercourse, rape, sodomy, or any other inappropriate sexual contact. Physical abuse involves repeated acts of aggression toward a sibling that have a high potential for causing injury and are committed with the intention of inflicting harm. These acts could include, but are not limited to, such things as hitting, punching, slapping, or other, more serious life-threatening assaults or violence. Psychological maltreatment, more commonly known as emotional abuse, may involve, but is not restricted to, name-calling, intimidation, ridicule, destruction of property, teasing, rejecting, terrorizing, isolating, corrupting, or denying emotional responsiveness or any acts done with the intention of creating an atmosphere of humiliation.
Minimization of sibling abuse is common and a primary reason why so little is known about this phenomenon. Precursors to sibling abuse are often minimized as behaviors common to age, gender, or both. For example, with regard to sibling sexual abuse, sexual exploration is one of the main precursors to abuse. Likewise, parental unavailability is a widespread family systemic factor contributing to sibling abuse. When parental figures are emotionally or physically absent, there can be an increased motivation to offend. A common instance in which sibling abuse takes place is in situations where siblings are placed in the role of caretaker.
Sibling abuse, not unlike other forms of abuse, may have a significant impact on the victim’s psychological health, stability, or both, for many years to come. Sibling abuse victims can experience various forms of mental health and interpersonal issues. Sibling abuse has the potential to increase both a victim’s vulnerability to revictimization and an offender’s tendency toward more offending behaviors in the future. Recognizing the common warning signs of sibling abuse can effectively help educators and health care practitioners identify abusive situations. Knowledge about the warning signs and behavior precursors to abuse will aid in prevention and treatment as well. Increasing the functionality of the family system by adhering to the mental, physical, and emotional needs of the children can create an atmosphere that fosters successful prevention of sibling abuse.
- Caffaro, John V. and Allison Conn-Caffaro. 1998. Sibling Abuse Trauma: Assessment and Intervention Strategies for Children, Families, and Adults. Binghamton, NY: Hawthorne.
- Wiehe, Vernon R. 1997. Sibling Abuse: Hidden Physical, Emotional, and Sexual Trauma. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.