Pandoras-Aquarium Article on Sibling Sexual Abuse / Incest During Childhood

hel2Pandoras-Aquarium – Sibling Sexual Abuse / Incest During Childhood by Katy

“Sibling child sexual abuse is defined as “sexual behavior between siblings that is not age appropriate, not transitory, and not motivated by developmentally, mutually appropriate curiosity” (Caffaro & Conn-Caffaro, 1998). In the literature it is sometimes referred to simply as “sexually harmful behavior” rather than abuse, but I will refer to it as “abuse . . .”


I really like this article.  It is comforting for survivors and well researched for the time it was written.  I have only found one flaw with the article and it could be related to the time the author did research on the topic and proper information was unavailable.  This flaw seems to scream at me and this could be because of how passionate I am about current research on this topic and because I am a survivor of sibling sexual abuse myself and my experiences were quite severe.The following statement from the article is flawed and a myth:

“However, perhaps more frequently than found in adult – child sexual abuse, sibling sexual abuse is frequently non – touching.”

The following is information to dispel this myth: ”sibling sexual abuse is frequently non – touching.”:

  1.  Sibling sexual abusers are thought be worse than other sexual offenders, whose victims may be inside or outside of the family. Sibling sexual offenders commit more sex crimes for more years, and often practice more intrusive sexual behavior, such as vaginal penetration (Firestone, 1999).
  2. Rudd and Herzberger[22]report that brothers who committed incest were more likely to use force than fathers who commit incest (64% vs. 53%). Similarly, Cyr and colleagues[7] found that about 70% of sibling incest involved sexual penetration, substantially higher than other forms of incest. (22 – Rudd, J. M., and Herzberger, S. D. (1999). Brother-sister incest/father-daughter incest: A comparison of characteristics and consequences. Child Abuse and Neglect, 23, pp. 915-928. 7 – Cyr, M., Wright, J., McDuff, P., & Perron, A. (2002). Intrafamilial sexual abuse: Brother-sister incest does not differ from father-daughter and stepfather-stepdaughter incest. Child Abuse and Neglect, 26, p. 957-973.)
  3. Sibling sexual abuse also seems to be the most severe with higher rates of sexual penetration than other intrafamilial sexual abuses (O’Brien, 1991). But it is not limited to intercourse and includes nonpenetration touching (e.g., groping) as well as nontouching behaviors such as leering, forcing a sibling to view pornographic material, and sexual proposals. All have potentially harmful psychological effects on the victim. Although father–daughter sexual abuse has received more attention, there is some evidence that sibling sexual abuse is as harmful with regard to psychological distress (Cyr, Wright, McDuff, & Perron, 2002). ( Caspi PhD, Dr. Jonathan (2011-09-12). Sibling Aggression: Assessment and Treatment (p. 8-9). Springer Publishing. Kindle Edition.)
  4. Sibling sexual abuse (incest) often causes more damage than abuse by a stranger. This is because children are dependent on their families and parents to keep them safe. Studies of convicted teenage sexual abuse offenders show that the sibling offenders commit more serious abuse over a longer period of time than other teenage offenders. This is because the victims (brothers or sisters) are more readily available, they are available for a longer period of time and the abuse is protected by family secrecy. (Public Health Agency of Canada)
  5. In the handful of studies comparing sibling incest victims with victims of parent-child incest, one set of researchers (Cyr et al., 2002) found a higher percentage (71%) of sibling cases involving intercourse . In another study (Meiselman, 1978), sibling victims engaged more often in oral-genital contact, had more often experienced periods of sexual promiscuity, and more often reported a history of rape.  More-recent investigators (Carlson et al., 2006; Tidefors et al., 2010; Tremblay et al., 1999; Welfare, 2008) suggest that sibling sexual abuse also results in more pregnancies than does father-daughter incest because offenders have greater access to victims and penetrate them more frequently. They suggested that the seriousness of the effects may be due to the duration and intrusiveness of the sexual acts, which are greater than in adult-child sexual abuse. Questions about the scope of the incest are complex, and depend somewhat on developmental factors. Younger offenders may be more likely to respect a victim’s unwillingness to continue the incest; an older victim may be more able to resist a brother’s or sister’s manipulation or sexual aggression. Evidence suggests, however, that older brothers may behave more like parents in maintaining the incest without regard for their sisters’ protests . Overall, the primary conclusions reached are that victims are most often female and are likely to suffer from extensive mental health problems (Winokur et al., 2009). [Caffaro, John V. (2013-08-22). Sibling Abuse Trauma: Assessment and Intervention Strategies for Children, Families, and Adults, Second Edition (Kindle Locations 2154-2165). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.]

Further evidence to support why sibling sexual abuse is actually harmful, originates from a conference outline presented by John Caffaro in 2007.  The following is from than outline:

Reasons why sibling violence is thought to be less harmful:

  • Presumption that child offenders not as strong, and victims therefore, not as damaged by threats
  • The notion that child-on-child violence developmentally is normal and therefore victims feel less stigmatized and violated
  • It leads to belief that children are developmentally more resilient when child perpetrators involved
  • Finally, presumptions of mutual responsibility in terms like scuffle, fights, squabbles often used to describe sibling conflict. 

Critique of Presumptions:

  • Lack of socialization often make child offenders more, not less dangerous
  • Remember, sex crimes are believed to be more injurious the earlier they are experience
  • Children may have much more intense and on-going contact with assailants–siblings—than would most adult victims