List of Resources Update 2014Posted: January 14, 2014
I will be adding to my list of resources for 2014:
Morrill, Mandy. (2014): “Sibling Sexual Abuse: An Exploratory Study of Long-term Consequences for Self-esteem and Counseling Considerations.” Journal of Family Violence 1-9. http://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10896-013-9571-4#page-1
Great advances have been made regarding the study of child sexual assault since the 1970’s. In spite of these advances, the gravity of sibling sexual abuse has largely been overlooked in sexual abuse literature. This paper uses peer reviewed research to highlight some of the major issues and unique long-term consequences associated with sibling sexual abuse. Specifically, an altered version of the Conflict Tactics Scale Straus (Journal of Marriage and the Family 41:75-88, 1979) and The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale Rosenberg (1965) were used to explore the long-term impact on self-esteem for those having experience with sibling sexual abuse as a child. In addition, clinical considerations for working with survivors, offenders, and families are provided.
The following is from the preview provided by Springer (check out the article on Springer for a fully referenced article with full content):
The feminist movement in the 1970s served as a major catalyst in moving the issue of domestic abuse into the conscious of mainstream America. Since that time, there has been tremendous advance in the study of abuse in the family. Today, professionals recognize childhood sexual abuse within the family as a significant and widespread problem with consequences lasting long into adulthood. Despite this progression, the research related to interfamilial incest conducted by social science researchers over the past three decades has focused primarily on father to daughter incest; largely ignoring the experience of sibling sexual assault.
Sibling sexual assault is more common than parental incest. Caffaro and Conn-Caffaro concluded that sibling incest and assault occur more frequently than parent-child incest and assault, even though sibling incest is one of the most under reported forms of abuse. Bess and Janssen found 60% of psychiatric outpatients had experienced some form of sibling incest. A study by Rudd & Herzberger indicated that 23% of incest survivors are sibling incest survivors. Clearly, sibling incest is a pandemic problem that requires more attention from mental health professionals.
Understanding why sibling sexual abuse occurs is complex. One of the main factors contributing to this phenomenon is the family environment. Maladaptive parental behavior and dysfunctional family structures have an impact on the sibling relationship. When the family structure supports power imbalances, rigid gender roles, differential treatment of siblings, and lack of parental supervision, the risk for sibling sexual abuse increases. Rowntree conducted a qualitative study of 19 adult female survivors of sibling sexual abuse in which it was found that the minimization of the abuse when disclosed had an impact on the severity and perception of the abuse. In a study conducted by Wiehe, the normalization of abuse by parents was found to be a critical element in the severity and frequency of abuse among siblings. When parents either model inappropriate sexual interaction or are unable to acknowledge inappropriate sexual interactions in their children, it is likely that one child will begin or continue to inflict sexual abuse on a sibling because he or she is modeling the actions of his or her parents.
Sibling Sexual Abuse
In spite of lack of empirical research on the topic, it is likely that sexual abuse among siblings occurs more frequently than any other form of sexual abuse. Defining the specifics of sibling sexual abuse has lacked consistency and clarity in previous research, which has been a hindrance in terms of moving forward with needed empirical analysis. As such, this study offers a clear and detailed definition of sibling sexual abuse. Sibling sexual abuse is defined as sexual behavior between siblings that is not age appropriate, not transitory and not motived by developmentally appropriate curiosity. Some examples of this behavior include inappropriate fondling, touching, sexual contact, groping, indecent exposure, masturbation, exposure to pornography, oral sex, anal, sex, digital penetration, and intercourse.
While there has been debate as to whether or not non-physical aspects of sibling sexual abuse, such as forced exposure to pornography or sexual leering, are as harmful as physical sexual assault, this study supports the notion that all acts of sibling sexual abuse hold the potential to be equally harmful. Ybarra and Mitchell found that exposure to pornography as a child, which is not self-seeking or developmentally appropriate, results in a high correlation with substance abuse, depression, attachment issues, and delinquent behavior. Seto conducted a meta-analysis of 59 studies in which the results suggest forced exposure to pornography (particularly in which sexually violent acts occur) can lead to significantly higher rates of anxiety, low self-esteem, and social isolation. Additionally, it has been shown that unwanted sexual advances, sexual leers, and being forced to view pornographic material can have as much of a psychological impact as physical intercourse.
Often reports of non-physical sibling sexual abuse are dismissed or minimized which intensifies the feeling of shame, guilt, and hopelessness related to the abuse. It is crucial not to minimize this type of sexual abuse as this form tends to happen more frequently and occur over a longer period of time than physical types of sexual abuse. Further, there is a growing trend of using non-physical types of sexual abuse with increased access to computers and other technology.
When compared with CSA in which an adult is the perpetrator, the impact and prevalence of sibling incest is often underestimated by society. This may be a result of the challenges related to establishing the victim and offender roles. Determining if coercion was a factor in the abuse may be another obstacle when dealing with siblings. Another difference between adult and sibling sexual abuse is that no generational boundary has been violated, which makes sexual abuse easier to hide. An exaggerated sexual climate in the family or rigidly repressive sexual family environment increases the risk of sibling sexual abuse. These environments may also contain multiple offenders of sexual abuse within the family, thus increasing the challenge of detecting and dealing with sibling sexual abuse specifically. Each offender may use denial as a means to protect himself or herself from experiencing shame and to maintain the abuse; therefore, the likelihood of any one member of the family reporting the incest is reduced.
Implications for Self-Esteem
Several studies support the notion that self-esteem is one construct of well-being closely associated with the quality of the sibling relationship. Raver and Volling surveyed 200 adults between the ages of 18 and 25 and found a significant correlation between family experiences, in particular, positive sibling interactions, and the ability to engage in healthy romantic relationship functioning as an adult. Using a convenience sample of 98 college students, Daniel found a strong, positive correlation between how one believed a sibling perceived him or her and the development of self-esteem as an adult. Caya and Liem administered a survey to 194 university students between the ages of 16 and 55 to study how the sibling relationship is used as a buffer from parental conflict. The results indicated the sibling relationship has a strong enough impact on the development of self-esteem that a positive sibling relationship can promote the development of positive self-esteem in the face of severe conflict outside of the sibling relationship. While these studies highlight the importance of focusing attention on self-esteem when studying sibling relationships, none of the above studies address how abusive sibling relationships may interfere with the development of positive self-esteem. The research presented in this paper attempts to address the gap in the literature and use an empirical analysis to address how any experience with sibling sexual abuse may impact the development of self-esteem.
Sibling sexual abuse tends to last over a longer period of time and uses more force than any other form of child sexual abuse. The severity and frequency of this type of sexual assault creates a situation in which long-term and devastating consequences exist. While some believe that sexual contact with a sibling can be positive, the reality is that there is no type of sibling sexual violation that promotes healthy individual development.
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