Sibling sexual abuse

Sexual abuse between siblings is thought to be the most common abuse within a family setting. A January 2021 report by Stuart Allardyce, Director at the Lucy Faithfull Foundation and Dr Peter Yates, lecturer and Programme Lead in Social Work at Edinburgh Napier University explores the issue.

Allardyce and Yates believe abuse by a child sibling is as much as three times as common as sexual abuse perpetrated by parent on a child.

It is thought the most common type of sibling sexual abuse is perpetrated by an older brother on a younger sister. It is believed that sibling sexual abuse is less likely to be disclosed than other forms of abuse and the effects of such may not appear until adulthood. The lack of disclosures is a worrying thought given the lack of disclosures of sexual abuse as a whole.

Research suggests that siblings perpetrating the abuse are likely themselves to have been a victim of sexual abuse at some stage in their life. When sibling abuse occurs it is both the perpetrator and victim that suffer harm however due to the acts carried out by the perpetrating child it can result in different and possibly confusing responses by parents and professionals.

It is believed that when working with families where there has been sibling sexual abuse, the work must go beyond looking at how the parents look after the child; the work must delve into the needs of each child and the way in which individuals within the family interact.

There are three types of sibling sexual behaviour;

  • Normative sexual interactions – this is behaviour which is expected and comes within developmental norms
  • Inappropriate/problematic sexual behaviour – this is the behaviour which forms outside developmental norms and may cause harm to the children involved
  • Sibling sexual abuse – behaviour that causes harm and involves sexually abusive behaviour with violence.

It is believed that the majority of sibling sexual abuse that occurs is in families unknown to social services and therefore, a greater public recognition of the issue is needed to prevent this form of abuse.

The report suggests that greater availability of resources to parents would significantly assist parents in differentiating  in what is normal and atypical sexual development in childhood in comparison to behaviour which could be a consequence of abuse.

The report also suggests sex education in schools should also include the topic of sibling abuse so a child can be self-aware of behaviours that occur within the family which might be abusive.


Written by Nicola Aspinwall at BLM nicola.aspinwall@blmlaw.com

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