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Sibling sexual abuse is a horrible form of trauma known by too many children. The taboo nature of incest, or intrafamilial sexual abuse, has left society silent on the issue, forcing sibling sexual abuse victims to endure the trauma for far too long without safe methods of intervention. Once the harm does stop, sibling sexual abuse survivors have been isolated in their recovery journeys without the proper tools or communities to support them. As a sibling sexual abuse survivor myself, I know the isolating and traumatizing impacts that this type of harm can cause and want to ensure that others have the resources they need to intervene or heal in safe community. 

You can read about my CSA survivor experience in People Magazine, watch my TedX, or join the pre-order notification list by clicking the button below.

What is sibling sexual abuse?

Sibling sexual abuse is a form of child-on-child sexual abuse between siblings, including step, adopted, and half siblings, as well as fostercare siblings or other children living in the home. Sexual abuse includes any type of coerced or unwanted sexual activity including inappropriate touching between siblings, groping, pornography, rape, sodomy, and the production of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). Unfortunately, sibling sexual abuse is more common than many think.

Sibling sexual abuse statistics

Sibling sexual abuse studies have been neglected from research priorities and funding, so it can be challenging to find updated and accurate statistics. However, a number of organizations nationally and internationally are now focused on this issue and working together to offer better evidence-based research to prevent sibling sexual abuse, improve models of intervention, and provide support for survivors and their families. 

One study estimates that about 5% of children are victims of sibling sexual abuse. In 2012, another study found that sibling sexual abuse is the most common form of abuse between family members. In fact, researchers estimate that sibling sexual abuse occurs up to three times more frequently than father/daughter incest. Another study noted that of 2,869 young adults interviewed, 40% of those sexually abused had been so by a sibling. 

Contributions to sibling sexual abuse offences

According to the US Department of Justice, over one-third of sexual violations against children are committed by other children. A number of social myths exist that contribute to the high rates of sibling sexual abuse. Due to the accessibility that siblings have to each other without parental or adult supervision, sibling sexual abuse tends to start younger, occur repeatedly, and involve more penetrative acts than other forms of child sexual abuse. 

The lack of safe sex education and the increased accessibility to pornography, including sibling porn, introduce children to sexuality through digital content that is unrealistic at best and violent at worst. After viewing this content, children may choose to explore and experiment on their sibling with or without an intent to harm. However, regardless of the intention of the offending child, the detrimental consequences on the victim, as well as the child harming can have lifelong impacts. 

Challenges with sibling sexual abuse disclosure

The rates of disclosure for sibling sexual abuse victims remain low. Often when victims do disclose, they are forced back into silence by family denial, a culture that normalizes or ignores harmful sexual behavior by siding with the child who harms, or parents and professionals who suggest abuse is just exploration and play motivated by curiosity. It’s important that sibling sexual abuse is taken more seriously societally, institutionally, and intrafamilially so that all children are protected from this form of harm. 

Signs of sibling sexual abuse

Sexual abuse can be easily hidden because the signs of sibling molestation often only exist inside the victim. From physical discomfort to shame, the consequences of sibling sexual abuse may be difficult to recognize. Here are a number of signs that sexual abuse may be happening to children:

  • Drastic changes in their personality or mood especially, anger, irritability, or depression.

  • Behavioral changes in eating, play, and social patterns, especially mimicking sexual activities with toys or others.

  • Physiological changes like stomach aches, pain, sores, or redness and irritation of the genitals.

  • Clinging to some family members while avoiding others.

  • Bed wetting and other developmental regressions. 

If you are a parent or caregiver of a child and recognize any of these signs, please call the Stop It Now hotline as a first step to getting the child help.

The long term effects of sibling sexual abuse

Sibling sexual abuse effects victims long term. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) like this can cause major health, relational, and economic problems. Many survivors may experience:

  • Mental health challenges like depression and Complex-PTSD.

  • Dissociative amnesia, or temporarily forgetting what happened.

  • Consumption of food, alcohol, or drugs in harmful amounts. 

  • Low self-worth and self-harming behaviors like cutting or picking the skin.

  • Bruising, infections, and redness of the genital organs or pregnancy.

  • Repeated violations by future sexual or romantic partners. 

  • Suicidality.

Unfortunately, sibling sexual abuse can also break down the entire family system impacting everyone within the unit. It is always best for sibling sexual abuse to be prevented. However, when one child harms another in the home, safe methods of intervention must be enacted upon quickly. 

Sibling sexual abuse prevention

Sibling sexual abuse prevention begins by adults raising children to respect each other. From their opinions, to their desires, to their bodies, all children deserve to be treated with dignity. Any power/over or power/under behavior between siblings due to age, gender, ability, or size should be addressed as teaching moments. If an adult recognizes patterns of harm or signs of abuse between children in public or family spaces, they can be gently corrected. However, abuse most often happens behind closed doors.  

A family environment that openly dialogues about bodily anatomy, autonomy, and sexuality will make it easier to foster safe communication. Here are a few ideas:

Tips like these provide a language for children to understand and communicate what’s happening to their bodies, as well as how others should be treating them. Reinforce to the children in your life that you are always available to listen if anyone is harming them, making them uncomfortable, or asking them to keep secrets. 

Although the safety settings on your home computer might have the highest standards of protection, they may not be high enough to filter out all sexually explicit content. Children may also have access to computers at the homes of others or in public places like schools and libraries. Teach them what to do if and when they encounter this content. 

These strategies have been validated by sexual prevention experts, but also affirmed by youth who have sexually harmed a sibling when asked what could have been done to keep them from hurting another child. The Mama Bear Effect, a trusted child abuse prevention organization, has a number of downloads to print and place around your home, classroom, or office to remind your children and others how they deserve to be treated. 5 Waves has also curated a number of sibling sexual abuse prevention resources, as well as Parenting Safe Children, Consent Parenting and Kimberly King, Tough Topics Mom

Sibling sexual abuse intervention

Sibling sexual abuse intervention is uniquely complex. On the one hand, adults have to intervene between two children who they both love. Also, children are not considered perpetrators in the same way adults are in situations of sexual violence. So, appropriate methods of intervention need to be followed. If you discover that your child is experiencing sibling sexual abuse through observation or disclosure, here are some guiding steps:

  • Stay calm: In the case of sibling sexual trauma, both of your children need support. A strong emotional reaction may scare the child being harmed and prompt them to recant. On the other hand, shame may be internalized that may slow the healing process for the child who harmed if defensive words or feelings are openly shared.

  • Believe and support the child who is being harmed: Sibling sexual abuse is common. Although painful, it’s important to believe that it’s happening and receive the support you need to process this information and intervene safely to guide your family through this process. Here are a few steps to best support the child harmed.

  • Discuss the situation with the child harming: Treatment for child sexual abuse offences is highly effective. Providing support for children offending is the first step to ensure they end recidivism. Here are a few tips to support the child who harmed.

  • Separate the child harming from other children: Until children harming have changed their behavior, they need to be separated from other children. This can be difficult and costly, but necessary to ensure other children remain free from harm. 

  • Report to a community support agency, a therapist, or the police: You can report the instances of abuse yourself, or, speak to a therapist or professional at a Child Advocacy Center, who are mandated reporters. Reporting your own child can feel complex, here are some ideas to help navigate the steps.

For one-on-one anonymous guidance, reach out to the RAINN hotline and take a look at the Defend Young Minds three step resource. 5 Waves offers a private Facebook Group for parents navigating sibling sexual abuse.

Recovery after sibling sexual abuse

Children who have been harmed may need physiological and psychological treatment to ensure that they process the pain, can understand the impacts, and prevent the issue from impacting them in the future. There are a number of types of therapy that focus on treating children after sibling sexual abuse including peer-to-peer support, clinical help, and opportunities to share their stories.

Adult survivors of sibling sexual abuse who are experiencing symptoms may be wondering how to recover. Some adult survivors may wait to disclose until much later in life. Others may experience dissociative amnesia, or forget about the trauma, then recall the events years later. No matter when you remembered or disclosed, you deserve to get help. Empower Survivors offers a peer-to-peer support group specifically for adult sibling sexual abuse survivors. Remember that all diagnoses due to the consequences of the abuse serve as guides to help you to heal. Otherwise, you can embrace a strengths-based approach to understand your resilience and skills acquired through your entire life and how to best utilize them to support your future.

Sibling sexual abuse treatment for those who offend

A number of treatment programs exist to support your child who has harmed to end recidivism and heal from the harm they caused. You can review the options and choose what’s best for your family. However, the court may also mandate a certain treatment protocol. All children deserve to be taught how to be safe especially after harmful behavioral patterns. 

Sibling sexual abuse stories 

If you’re a survivor of sibling sexual abuse or a parent seeking support through other people’s stories, a number of organizations publish survivor stories on their websites. You can read the stories of other survivors or reach out to share your own story.



I feel real guilty_A memoir of Sibling Sexual Abuse_Jane Epstein.jpg

I Feel Real Guilty

A memoir of Sibling Sexual Abuse

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