How Common Is Sibling Abuse? (A complete guide)

This blog article will explore the question, “How common is sibling abuse?” It will outline the different forms of abuse, facts on sibling sexual abuse, risk factors, and what parents and other services can do to protect sibling abuse victims and prevent such traumatic events. 

How Common Is Sibling Abuse?

A study conducted in 2015 reported that sibling abuse occurs in 35 per 100 children. Such figures hold across various economic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. A study in 2002 conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that more than 2% of children had been abused by their siblings. They also found that the ones exploited by an adult relative are close to 0.1%. 

Sibling abuse often goes underreported due to several fears, including fear of people not believing them, the abuser themselves, or even upsetting their parents. Sometimes, the abused child blames themselves for the abusive occurrence.   

Different Forms of Abuse

Abuse comes in different forms and manifests even subtly, like manipulation, tickling, bossing their sibling around, or even poking. Continual abuse is hugely damaging to the individual, and so is teasing and defamation. The different forms of abuse include:

  • Sexual Abuse
  • Emotional Abuse
  • Physical Abuse

Sexual Abuse

More than 30% of child sexual offenses are carried out by other children, with more than 90% of brothers abusing sisters younger than them. Sexual exploitation may occur in the form of fondling, forcing their siblings to view pornographic content, masturbation, indecent acts to arouse them sexually, and other unwarranted sexual passes. Such behaviors can be distinguished from the innocuous curiosity that comes with age.

The victimized children are typically silenced, and as they grow older, their resistance to these exploits increases to no avail as the abusers fight back or threaten to expose them. Adding to this is a lack of belief and denial from adults when the victims recount the traumatic event to them. The abused children rarely receive empathy, strengthening their reluctance to open up. 

Emotional Abuse

Although challenging to identify, emotional abuse is common among siblings. Behaviors that determine emotional abuse include teasing, threats, denigration, belittlement, name-calling, unwarranted provocation, shaming, and even destruction of objects that belong to their siblings. 

Manipulation is typically seen as bribes, threats, victimizing oneself, evasive behaviors, withholding information, and even deception. It is done to abuse and takes advantage of the sibling.     

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse occurs when a child deliberately inflicts harm on their sibling, causing physical damage to the latter. Such violent behaviors include choking, slapping, pinching, hair-pulling, tickling, bodily restraint, and may even involve the usage of objects and weapons. 

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Sibling Sexual Abuse Facts

As we have noted this unfortunate fact already, sexual abuse is quite common among siblings. Here are a few facts about sibling sexual abuse.

Delinquent Boys Frequently Abuse

People are quick to assume a sexual abuser to be a male adult. However, more than 30% of sex offenders are underage boys. Convenient access and proximity to their siblings make minor children more likely to abuse a family member.

A study conducted by Finkelhor and other researchers in 2009 found that, on average, an underage sexual abuser is 15 years and a majority of sexual abusers commit a crime at least once before they turn 18.

A mere 7% of sex offenders are women. Women are more likely to abuse a family member than an outsider. Keep in mind that such perpetrators abuse siblings of the same sex as well.

Victim-Blaming by Parents

Most children who disclose sibling abuse are met with their parents’ unwillingness to believe them. Instead, they are likely to be blamed by their parents for the abuse. It is challenging for parents to wrap their heads around the fact that their child can commit such horrible offenses. 

Risk Factors

Sibling abuse usually results from familial discord and dysfunction due to financial issues, parental conflicts, environmental chaos, disorganization, and even the absence of necessary resources. Specifically, the following factors increase the risk of sibling abuse.

  • Parental neglect or an absence of parental control;
  • Anger issues in parents;
  • Gender is a determinant as the victims are more likely to be females than males;
  • Older brother and younger sister are most often the abuser and abused;
  • Birth order is a contributing factor as siblings without much age difference, and younger girls are likely to be abused;
  • Partiality toward one child or comparison between siblings by parents;
  • A power struggle between the parents, where one continually dominates the other. Their children tend to imitate this wherein the older child attempts to assert dominance over younger ones;
  • Coercive parenting;  
  • Cultures that promote power abuse;
  • Abuse in parents or child abuse;
  • Substance use disorder in parents or the abuser;
  • Parents engaging in victim-blaming, taking sides, or making the victim feel responsible for the situation (e.g., “You stop playing with them.”);
  • Parents normalizing, trivializing, or even staying silent about the abuse;
  • The abuser may have a conduct disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or even mood disorder as these disorders are affiliated with violence;
  • Parents who find resolving conflicts among siblings challenging; and
  • The abuser may have been abused themselves, lack empathy, have anger issues, have self-esteem levels disproportionate for their age, feel physically or sexually deprived, and are unequipped to cope with such frustrations appropriately. 

What Can Parents Do?

Parents must be aware of sibling abuse, and to do so, they must learn more about the contributors of sibling abuse. Awareness can allow them to undertake the required steps to avoid sibling abuse. 

It is challenging for parents to come to terms with the fact that one of their children abuses another. However, this situation must not be shrugged off. Your child may be committing a crime, and both the abuser and the victim must be attended to.

The abusive child must be held accountable for their actions. They must also be taken to a mental health professional to prevent them from harming others. 

In the meantime, the victim must be shown consideration, and you can start by believing them. Provide them safety, support, care, and validate their feelings. They will most likely need psychotherapy to recover from the traumatic event. Therefore, make sure that you provide them the required resources to cope with such trauma.  

What Can Other Services Do?

The following suggestions should be considered to prevent sibling abuse, especially sexual exploitation.

School Settings

Schools can make the following arrangements to encourage children to disclose sibling abuse.

  • Continually evaluate children’s rapport with their siblings in interactive ways, such as puppet shows, storytelling, and art that cover the concepts of sibling relationships;
  • Be aware, understand, and show consideration toward the family atmosphere, and parental responsibilities, involvement, and supervision;  
  • Encourage children to establish proper boundaries in their relationships with friends, siblings, and even other family members;
  • Incorporate lessons surrounding appropriate and inappropriate touch in their syllabus; and
  • During meetings with the students’ parents, talk about their interactions with their siblings at home. 

Policy and Legal Settings

The following list of suggestions can help prevent sibling abuse.

  • Develop training programs for the staff members of various institutes and agencies to sensitize them to sibling abuse and related issues;
  • Spread awareness to the general public and other service areas regarding this issue, and address its severity and why it needs to be overcome; and
  • Join hands with organizations that help victims of sibling abuse

Child Services

Child Service Agencies can ensure the welfare of children who have potentially undergone sibling abuse by doing the following things.

  • Carry out a thorough investigation of the child’s experiences;
  • Assess the forms of sibling interaction and play and the place of occurrence;
  • Evaluate the self-esteem of the child and consider the possibility of abuse and associated shame due to victim-blaming;
  • Stay vigilant regarding indications of abuse, including reluctance to talk about family atmosphere, evading topics regarding sibling relationships, and attempts to defend their sibling from being criticized;
  • Explore the child’s family atmosphere, dynamic, boundaries within and outside the family, parental behaviors, level of monitoring, chaos, and the occurrence of abuse in subtle or apparent manners;
  • Normalize the association between childhood issues and current concerns;
  • Gain insights into sleeping arrangements;
  • Provide comfort for victims to talk about abuse; and
  • Provide safety to victims and protect them from disturbing stimuli after they disclose any information regarding sibling abuse

Conclusion

This blog post answered the question, “How common is sibling abuse?” with statistics. It also outlined the different forms of abuse, various facts on sibling abuse. The article enumerated the risk factors for sibling abuse, which seemed to predominantly revolve around the familial atmosphere and upbringing of the children. Finally, it enlisted suggestions for parents and service agencies to consider to prevent sibling abuse.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): How Common Is Sibling Abuse?

Does sibling abuse exist?

Yes, sibling abuse exists and occurs when a child continually manipulates, intimidates, asserts dominance, or controls their sibling. It tends to occur in dysfunctional households with negligent or exploitative parents who do not establish healthy restrictions or reprimand offensive kids. 

How many people have siblings?

In this U.S., around 80% of the population has at least one sibling, and experts report a higher probability of children these days having a sibling than a father. 

How many people who are or have been abused start abusing?

30% of people who have experienced abuse as a child are likely to become abusers. These percentages are less than those expected by researchers. Nevertheless, it is a severe societal threat and a problem that needs to be overcome soon. 

What are the signs that indicate your sibling is toxic?

The following signs indicate that your sibling is toxic.
They are manipulative;
They are looking to bring up conflicts with you;
They take credit for things they did not do;
They control your life;
They invalidate how you feel; and
They never assume responsibility for their actions, i.e., they think they are always right

Is it common for siblings to fight?

Yes, it is common for siblings to fight, and they do so almost four times an hour, on average. Usually, children utter unpleasant or domineering words to their siblings than to friends. 

What leads to intimate relationships with family members?

Dysfunctional families face alterations in roles, responsibilities, and expectations, which can cause intimate relationships with family members. Other contributing factors include a lack of sexual activity with the spouse, low self-esteem, impulsivity, and a lack of effective interpersonal relations. 

Who is more likely to fight – brothers or sisters?

Sisters are more likely to argue verbally than brothers, while brothers tend to be more physically aggressive. Girls are known to be more open about their emotions and feelings than boys.

References

Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R., & Chaffin, M. (2009). Juveniles Who Commit Sex Offenses Against Minors. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/nibrs.htm.

Lancer, D. (2020, February 03). Sibling Bullying and Abuse: The Hidden Epidemic. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/toxic-relationships/202002/sibling-bullying-and-abuse-the-hidden-epidemic

Morin, A. (2020, January 19). Sibling Sexual Abuse Facts Parents Should Know. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/facts-about-sibling-sexual-abuse-2610456.  

Nygren, P., Nelson, H. D., & Klein, J. (2004). Screening children for family violence: A review of the evidence for the US Preventive Services Task Force. In Annals of Family Medicine (Vol. 2, Issue 2, pp. 161–169). Annals of Family Medicine, Inc. doi:10.1370/afm.113.

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Sara Quitlag is an Applied Psychologist, with a deep interest in psychopathology and neuropsychology and how psychology impacts and permeates every aspect of our environment. She has worked in Clinical settings (as Special Ed. Counselor, CBT Therapist) and has contributed at local Universities as a Faculty member from time to time. She has a graduate degree in English Literature and feels very connected to how literature and psychology interact. She feels accountable and passionate about making a "QUALITY" contribution to the overall global reform and well-being. She actively seeks out opportunities where she can spread awareness and make a positive difference across the globe for the welfare of our global society.