Most instances of sibling abuse are disregarded by adults or go unnoticed. It is typically only the most extreme cases requiring medical attention or police intervention that are reported. Many cases of sibling abuse occur "under the radar" on without parental or adult intervention.
Even when sibling abuse is observed by a a parent or another adult, it is often disregarded or written off as a normal part of growing up. This tends to lead to chronic abuse problems where the victim has no recourse or refuge.
However, sibling abuse is just as serious as parental child abuse and causes a great deal of harm to a victim. The damaging effects often extend long into adulthood.
Personality disorders are typically not diagnosed in young people, because they are not fully developed in terms of their social skills and behavior traits. However, sometimes destructive traits of personality disorders can be exhibited by young people who are still too young to be diagnosed. These traits will often be evident in relationships with siblings.
Sibling Child Abuse Statistics:
Statistically, child abuse at the hands of a sibling is more common than child abuse at the hands of a parent or adult (which occurs to an estimated 1.2% of children per year).
A 2005 study estimated that about 1 in 3 children (35%) are abused by a sibling each year and that about 1 in 33 (3%) children suffer "dangerous" violence at the hands of another sibling.
It is also believed that sexual abuse of minors occurs more often at the hands of a sibling or other minor than at the hands of a parent or other adult.
Identifying Sibling Child Abuse:
Many responsible adults struggle to differentiate between sibling abuse and normal childhood behavior and sibling rivalry.
Most children need to be taught by a parent or adult authority figure not to behave abusively towards one another when they have conflicts. Good boundary setting in the home and establishing fair fight rules and how to negotiate conflicts is key to teaching children not to engage in abusive behaviors such as hitting, threats, name calling, intimidation and bullying. Children are also likely to engage in inappropriate behaviors towards their peers when they become sexually curious and good parental intervention without shaming can help protect the weaker siblings and help the children learn appropriate social behaviors for life. Incidents like this which do not become chronic are a normal part of child development and early parental intervention is the best approach.
Sibling relationships become abusive when they become chronic.
Signs of Possible Sibling Abuse:
One child avoids or fears being left alone with another.
During play, one child always assumes the role of the aggressor during play and another the victim.
A pattern of increasing roughness during play.
A child becomes violent towards toys, household objects or pets
A child develops a chronically depressed mood.
A child begins to struggle in school
Unexplained loss of appetite, inability to sleep, nightmares and panic attacks.
A child begins to seek inappropriate sexual contact or demonstrates an unusual heightened sexual awareness and curiosity.
Increased Parental Risk Factors for Sibling Abuse:
Parents who do not intervene when incidents occur or who deny there is a problem.
Parents who do not model positive conflict resolution skills in their own lives.
Uninvolved or neglectful parents
Emotionally withdrawn parents
Parents who demonstrate favoritism
Parents who abuse children themselves.
Reduced Parental Risk Factors for Sibling Abuse:
Parents who minimize rivalries between children.
Parents who demonstrate and insist on appropriate boundaries for acceptable behavior
Parents who are present and actively involved in their children's activities.
Parents who demonstrate constructive conflict resolution skills with their children.
Parents who openly discuss what is appropriate and inappropriate physical and sexual behavior with their children.
What it Feels Like:
The following is contributed by Out of the FOG Member & Moderator Klarity Belle:
My half-brother was an alcoholic, a gambler and in regular trouble with the police.
He liked to tease me and humiliate me in front of family and friends. He would often tell lies to get me into trouble. Sometimes he would wake me up and say horrible things to me when he was drunk. He told me he hated me and wished I hadn't been born.
Once at a swimming pool he asked me to show him how well I could swim. I was eager to show off my basic strokes to him. He waited till I was in the middle of the pool and then dive-bombed on top of me, I choked in the water and he laughed hard.
Whenever I would cry he would sneer and laugh, I remember the satisfied look on his face.
It felt lonely because I so desperately wanted him to protect me and love me. I wanted him to be proud of me.
As a child I didn't understand. As an adult I still tried hard to win his love. Sadly, his self-absorbed character has not changed, even after he became sober.
It has taken me a long time to let go of my expectations of what the relationship should be like and accept what it really is. I think there will always be a space in my life where a warm and reciprocal sibling bond should have been.
Long Term Effects of Sibling Abuse on Victims:
Adult children who have been abused by siblings are at increased risk of:
Low Self Esteem
Involvement in abusive relationships
Coping with sibling abuse as a child or teenager:
If you are a child or teenager who is subjected to acts of aggression, bullying, violence or intimidation by a sibling or other minor:
What NOT To Do:
Don't ignore the problem or assume it will just go away.
Nov 9, 2013 - OOTF has just launched a new "Future Goals" forum. This forum is a safe place to store your goals of what you would like to achieve. Setting goals can help us move forward, and give us something to focus on while we are working our way through day to day issues. Goals can change, be amended or added to over time as we either achieve them, or determine new goals as our lives unfold.