“Resolution of the trauma is never final; recovery is never complete. The impact of the traumatic event continues to reverberate throughout the survivor’s life-cycle. Issues that were sufficiently resolved at one stage of recovery may be reawakened as the survivor reaches new milestones in [their] development.”– Herman, JL. (1997). Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. New York: Basic Books.
Once upon a time there lived a little girl named Paula Brave. She lived in a small house with her Mother and Father and two older brothers, Stephan and Mark. It appeared to most people that Paula was a typical second grade girl whose day included going to school, playing with dolls, and cuddling cats. But this was not the case for Paula Brave… Paula Brave’s true identity was a super hero warrior!
Chapter 1: Invasion of the Hand People
Bedtime seems like a harmless thing for most kids. “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” and then you are off to sleep in dreamland with no further thoughts of the day. This maybe the case for some kids but not for Paula Brave… After bidding her parents good night, Paula would go to her bedroom to change into her protective armor!
Preparations were underway for the invasion … the “Hand People” one of Paula’s most frightening foes. One touch from the enemy caused fatal death. Each night Paula prepared herself by putting on helmet and neck guard (winter hat and scarf). She would then roll up in her blankets securely like a cocoon. The blankets could not hang off the bed or the evil Hand People would have a way to crawl under the blankets to get her.
With helmet, neck guard, and blanket properly in place she could guarantee a night free of the poison hands. But sometimes this did not always work …
Paula wondered if the hand people got into her room through the window that separated her room from her brother’s room. She knew that could not be when she could not open the window. Even using her super power of strength! Paula laid traps (toys) in front of the window just incase the hands made it through window. “That will stop them for sure!” she thought. But sometimes this did not always work …
Sometimes the morning would arrive and she would find the window open with the traps (toys) moved or broken. How could this be?
The hand people could visit her dreams. In her dreams, she would come to a long hallway of arms with hands sprouted from either side of the wall. The door was closed and locked behind her and she was forced to make it down the hall without being touched.
One day Paula found her dream superpower and found out that she could fly away from the wall of grasping hands.
Chapter 2: The Hissing
Fighting with your brothers and sisters is considered typically a normal part of growing up. “Get out of my room!”; “Don’t touch my stuff!”; “You broke it!”; “That’s mine!”; The angry remarks could go on and for most kids, they fade away and are forgotten, but not so for Paula Brave. Sometime when Paula’s parents were not watching, her brothers would turn into SNAKES!
Her brothers would shed their clothes to reveal their scales. Her brother Stephen would become the snake Stephen and her brother Mark would become snake Mark. They would slither about hissing and ask her to play. They would ask her to play without her clothes on so she could be like them. The snake Stephan would stalk and capture Paula. He would wrap around her and move up and down on top of her. The snake-Stephen will flick his tongue on Paula and tell her to stop moving. The snake-Mark would only stalk Paula giggling and hissing while touching himself and Stephan.
Paula could not escape the tight grip of the snake and they could not hear her pleas “Stop it!” so she would use her super powers to take herself away from her body. She would travel to her cat named Tiger where she could be just a little girl with her kitty. They would play with yarn and Paula would feed the cat treats and pet her. Sometimes her cat would turn into a big panther that would protect her from the snakes.
When Stephan the Snake finally let go of Paula sometimes he would talk with the other snake, Mark, and they would stalk and touch each other. They would talk about special showers they would take for each other. Paula would come back to her body after playing with her cat. Sometimes Paula would cry because she did not like her brothers to be snakes and sometimes she did not feel well after being squeezed.
Before the snakes turned back into her brothers they would try to make Paula feel better by telling her how much better she is treated by her parents compared to them and how they were beaten and that she could only trust them and not to trust her parents because they might beat her. Other times the snakes would tell her she was a tattle-tale or a baby. Paula did not want to be baby or tattle-tale and she did not want to be beaten so she did not tell anyone.
Paula would then drift to her bedroom and play with her toys and cat. Sometimes Paula played with her friends outside. Sometimes Paula would forget that her brothers were ever snakes and she would try to play board games with them.
The times that Paula would forget that her brothers turned into snakes, her brothers would hiss at her to remind her. Their hiss was a long “TH” sound and had the power to make Paula cry. They would do this in front of Mom and Dad but her parents did not know their sons could turn into snakes so they would become angry and tell Paula to shut up.
Sometimes her parents knew that her brothers were making her cry and they would tell them to stop it.
There were many angry words and sad times in her house because Paula’s parents did not get along with each other. Sometimes her parents were very angry at Paula’s brothers because they were getting in trouble at school for fighting or doing drugs. Paula would use her super power to go away with her cat so she did not have to hear the anger.
Chapter 3: Tainted Treats
Eating yummy ice cream treats is a fun way to spend a hot summer day. Children that live in the city or suburb look forward to a visit from the ice cream truck. Playing music and ringing a bell. The children run as fast as they can to buy the cold treats. Paula’s family lived next door to an ice cream shop so they did not have to go far to enjoy a sundae. Sometime when Paula’s parents were not watching, her brothers would POISON Paula’s ice cream!
When Paula’s brothers became snakes they would ask her to do things for them and they would give her ice cream. Paula knew she had no choice but to do what they asked but she was not going to eat the ice cream after they poisoned it.
Snake-Stephan would pull Paula’s face into the place where he went pee. First he asked sweetly, pretending that he was not a snake but her brother. Paula whined “nooooooo!” Then he told her that she was going to do that and he would reward her with the best ice cream the shop could offer. Paula whined “nooooooo!” Then he used all his snake cunning and put Paula’s face into the place on his body where he went pee. Paula cried and tried to move. Using her super powers she drifted away to her cat. But she could still hear the snakes hiss, “Haha! She is doing it!”
When she came back to her body, she was frightened and alone on a chair in the basement. Paula’s brothers opened the back door to the basement and cheerfully brought her some ice cream. Paula began to cry. She did not know why she was crying but she did know that she did not want to eat poisoned ice cream. Then Paula’s Dad came in and wanted to know why she was crying. Paula could not talk because she was too sad. Paula’s brothers told their Dad that Paula asked for ice cream and they went to the store and bought her some with their own money and now she does not want it. Stephan exclaimed, “She is nothing but a big BABY!” Paula’s Dad did not know why Paula would be so mean to her brothers and refuse ice cream that they bought for her. Paula’s Dad said, “GO TO YOUR ROOM! HOW CAN YOU TREAT YOUR BROTHERS LIKE THIS!”
Paula went to her room and fell fast asleep and thought no more about the bad trick that her brothers played on her.
Chapter 4: Attack of the Killer Swing
Playing on the playground, sliding down slides, swing on swings, and laughing out loud; a kid in grade school could pass the hours in a park or a backyard with such fun things. Paula’s friends lived just one block away and in their yard was a swing set where she loved to play. But on one particular day the swing that she loved so much turned into a BEAST with sharp teeth!
Today was like any other day for Paula: eat breakfast, watch TV, play with her dolls, and of course her brothers taking her to the basement where they turned into snakes. Just like before, Snake-Stephan would stalk and capture Paula and wrap around her and move up and down on top of her while flicking his tongue. “Stoopp Ittttt” Paula would whined. Snake-Stephan shouted, “STOP MOVING!” Paula started to drift off but this time was different. This time she felt pain. This time the crying started before he was done with her. She then felt no more and drifted further away than she had ever been. Her super powers had grown stronger.
When she came back to her body, she found herself in the upstairs bathroom wondering how she got there. She felt a sharp pain between her legs. “How embarrassing to hurt right there” she said to herself, “Maybe the pain will go away. Maybe it will go away if I go play”. Paula left her house to go play at her friend’s house. Her friend had to eat dinner but said she could wait outside for her on the swing set. Paula loved to stand on the swing and pretend she was Tarzan. But when she climbed to stand up on the swing she felt an unbearable sharp stab between her legs and then looked down to see blood trickle freely down her legs into her shoes.
Her mind began to race and she became drenched in worry. “It must have been the swing” she muttered quietly to herself. “How embarrassing!” she cried. She went to the friend’s door to ask to use the bathroom. She thought to herself, “I just need to clean this up so know one will know”. Her friend answered the door and let her through to the bathroom. Everyone was in the kitchen and her friend did not notice the blood. Once the door was shut, Paula pulled down her shorts and underwear that were now soaked with blood and tried to wipe up what she could with toilet paper but the blood just kept coming.
It had been a few minutes and Paula’s friend Cathy knocked on the door. “Are you ok in there, Paula?” said Cathy. “Ah well …. I have a problem” Paula replied trying to sound causal, “there is this blood”. “BLOOD!” exclaimed Cathy, “Let me get my Mom!” Paula continued to wipe up the blood from her legs and off her shoes with toilet paper. Then a knock came to the bathroom door again “Paula? Are you okay? I am going to come in.” She opened the door, “OH MY GOD! Go get a towel and wash cloth Cathy!”
Cathy’s Mother helped to clean Paula up and then Paula sat on the side of the tub with a towel between her legs while she waited for her own Mother to get there. Upon her mother’s arrival, Paula could hear Cathy’s Mom tell her own Mother before they entered the bathroom, “She said it was our swing but I don’t see how it is possible since her shorts are not torn … And it does not seem like a period and she is too young for that”. Her mother dressed Paula and put her in the car and drove her home. Paula lay in her own bed with a towel between her legs as she continued to bleed. Her parents started to argue about taking her to the hospital and finally at last her Father picked her up, walked her to the car, and drove her to the emergency room.
Paula was questioned many times about what happen and Paula remained firm that the killer swing was to blame. The doctor told Paula’s Mom that Paula had cuts inside her vagina and he was considering stitches but thought that would take surgery. He wanted to keep Paula over night at the hospital but Paula’s Mom started to scream and cry repeatedly “NO!!!!” Paula got to go back home and sit in a tub with warm water and wear a pad between her legs. After a few weeks her vagina did not hurt and bleed no more.
The killer swing was removed and thrown away and none of this was ever mentioned again.
Chapter 5: Super Hero Warrior
Paula Brave Little Girl Super Hero Warrior lived to fight another day. She built a fortress to fend off the dreaded Hand People. She battled the venomous snakes. She avoided the poisoned ice cream. She had the beastly swing put away where it could never hurt another ever again. Truly, Paula Brave is a Super Hero Warrior.
The snake named Mark turned back into her brother after the monster swing was defeated; However, Paula continued to fight off the snake named Stephen for a few more years. Eventually, Stephen moved away and life started to get better for Paula. Paula’s life was forever changed … for even a Super Hero Warrior carries scars from battles that have long passed.
Very nicely done Handbook for Parents of Sibling Sexual Abuse. Click on the above image or link below to see the handbook:
This booklet is for parents of children who have been sexually abused by their brother/sister. Such form of sexual abuse is called “sibling sexual abuse.”
Sexual abuse can have harmful effects on both your child who has abused and your child who has been victimised. Indeed sibling sexual abuse affects the entire family.
When sibling sexual abuse happens in the family, you, as a parent, may blame yourself and wonder what you have done wrong. You may experience many feelings such as anger, sadness, grief, guilt and confusion.
The truth is that parents often want the best for their children and even though parents try their best to keep an eye on their children at home or monitor their children’s activities outside the home, sibling sexual abuse can happen. Sibling sexual abuse is one of the most common forms of sexual abuse.
It is important for parents to have a strong understanding of sibling sexual abuse so that they can deal with the situation, and support their children towards recovery.
Clearly there were major “red flags” my parents should have seen in my childhood indicating I was raped and being sexually abused yet these signs were completely ignored. It should not be surprising to anyone that after my bloody rape (aka – the evil swing that I talk about in my Paula Brave story) at the age of 7 that my mother started suffering severe depression and was admitted in-patient a few times to a psychiatric unit. Even though my mother thought my bloody rape by my brother was nothing more than a tragic playground accident on a swing; somehow this must have triggered her own past childhood sexual abuse by her father and a brutal rape by an older teenage boy when she was 15. When my mother became pregnant from the rape her father brutally physically assaulted her in the abdomen in an effort to cause her to miscarriage the baby. When this did not work then he forced my mother to get an illegal abortion (this was back in the 50s). The only people my mother ever told this story to were me and my father. Since my mother died this past August … it is time her story is known.
I now realize the reason why my parents never followed up with my own pediatrician after my rape “aka swing incident” and they did not take me to see the doctor until 7 months later was because my mother was is in a complete mental breakdown. However, while her complete mental breakdown was going on, my brother was continuing to rape me. The rapes did not stop after the first. And this was all made possible because I was left in my brother’s care while my Dad left each evening to visit my Mom in the Psychiatric unit. Then when my mom came back home, my parents would go out almost every evening to bars, dancing, bingo, drinking with friends because my Mom needed to have a good time to raise her spirits up … the rapes continued … My parents drinking was almost daily for most of my childhood.
When my parents found my diary when I was 16 and read about my sadness because of the way my brothers treated me and overwhelming depression due to my brother raping me so many times … their response can only be described as a drunken out of control rage focused on me. They did not believe me. We sat at the kitchen table as they downed several cases of beers while mocking my diary and my poor attempts to answers outrageous questions such as, “HOW MANY TIMES DID HE DO THIS TO YOU?!!!”, “GIVE ME SPECIFIC TIMES AND PLACES WHERE THIS HAPPENED!!!” “DO YOU REALLY EXPECT ME TO BELIEVE THIS BULLSHIT!!!” “OH, POOR YOU! YOU HAD IT SO ROUGH!!!” “STOP CRYING!!!!” “WHY ARE YOU CRYING?!!!” “ANSWER ME DAMN IT!!!” “HOW CAN YOU MAKE THIS UP ABOUT YOU BROTHER!!!” “YOU ARE PURPOSELY DOING THIS TO RUIN THE FAMILY!!!”
These responses and other horrible things they said about me should have made me want to run away from home but instead I drew even more into myself and wanted to die. I just sat there crying hysterically until they sent me to my room. I fell completely under my mother’s control and accepted any cruel thing that she said to me without comment. A part of me died that day and night they interrogated me. What little self-esteem and self-worth I had was deed. My mother did not like my friends so I had to give up ones she did not approve of and she constantly complained about any contact I had with anyone outside the family. I learned to keep my mouth shut and “suck it up” and “deal with it”. She told me about what happen to her and that she “forgave” her father (even though she mentally broke down every time we went about him). She told me I had to do the same thing as she did and sacrifice myself for the good of the family. I had to shut up about all this for the sake of the “family” and keep the “family” together at all cost.
I did not start regaining parts of myself until I moved out of that home when I was 21. My parents finally believed me only after I was able to give them what they considered as solid evidence and when they finally believed me then they completely broke down. The solid evidence I provided was a reminder about the “swing incidence” (rape) and I provided the true clarity of that event and I reminded my father of another time he punished me for refusing my brother’s “ice cream gift” (a reward for forced oral sex). A light bulb came on and they questioned me no more (this was when I was about 30 years old). However, after this awaken for my parents, my mothers physical health went completely down hill with colon cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, congestive heart failure and numerous other health conditions and my father’s gambling problem went completely out of control and my parents had to file for bankruptcy and my father also made two suicide attempts.
If there are any parents reading any of this and have a child that has been sexually abused a sibling then I would encourage you read this pamphlet …. Don’t make the same mistakes my parents made. If you have been sexual abused by someone else in your childhood then get help … Don’t keep it a secret like my Mom did by taking it to her grave while all the time she suffered on the inside. If you have a drug or alcohol problem or even question if you do … Don’t wait to get help, seek help now! You will not be able to help you children as long as you remain STUCK in your own problems from the past and your current problems or additions that impact you today.
I have had the good fortune to correspond with a gentleman with childhood sexual abuse experiences similar to my own. His story can be found at: http://www.livingwell.org.au/from-men/johns-story/ (John’s story)
A quote from his opening paragraph could have almost been written by myself: “My story starts in the late 60’s, my memories are not clear on dates, etc. I was around 7-8 years old and was the youngest in a large family. The next youngest was a brother, my tormentor. He was 6-7 years older than me. He was always resentful and cruel to me, he had been “the baby” for a long time. Perhaps he was jealous, though he was always our Dad’s “golden-haired child”.”
With a few minor exceptions, this paragraph matches my own life story. My own story starts in the early 70s and my brother had my mother’s brown hair and brown eyes; however, my brother was very much my parent’s “golden child”. My brother was 7 ½ years older than me and like John’s story, my brother was my resentfully cruel jealous tormentor. My rapist brother was in charge of me and my oldest brother.
Though, unlike my story, John’s story does have a silver lining where he was able to find JUSTICE!
It is eerie how two people from completely different families, backgrounds, and countries can have such similarly sad childhoods. The characteristics of sibling sexual abuse are somewhat universal especially when it continues to go unnoticed by the parents and other adults with no early interventions to stop the abuse. The abusing sibling is given “free rein” to rule over the other sibling(s) as they see fit.
It is clear, John was able to take the ultimate act of letting go of the responsibility for the childhood sexual abuse. And with the help of justice system in his country, he was no longer taking responsible for or protecting the person who abused him, his brother, and his brother faced the consequences of his own actions. (The wording highlighted in bold is from step 3 of Survivors of Incest Anonymous, The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. Literature is available at: http://www.siawso.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1633106 )
Forgiveness of the abuser is not a requirement for healing for survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA). The most important step in healing for CSA survivors is SAFETY. Do you feel like hurting yourself or someone else? What will you do when you feel suicidal or doing self-harm? Create a safety plan first (create one even if it feels silly). There are many hotlines available 24 hours a day to listen. Have the hotline numbers and/or the numbers of friends or family that you trust will listen. The downward spiral of harmful negative thoughts can be overwhelming for survivors and having someone to talk to can be beneficial in turning around that type of thinking. Be prepared to take yourself to the emergency room or seek medical help if a phone call or talking to someone does not provide help and you still want to hurt yourself or others. Safety First and then all the rest can follow …
In the USA: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK
Worldwide Hotlines: http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html
Worldwide Hotlines: http://www.befrienders.org/
The next important step would be admitting and accepting the sexual abuse did happen, has had an impact on your life, and then make a decision to heal. Acceptance, like healing, is an evolving process and can take a life time for some survivors as significant life events bring new understands of memories.
I don’t think that forgiveness of the abuser is a requirement for healing. Some survivors have found forgiving the abuser helpful. This is a common topic I think most survivors struggle with because it seems like society expects us to forgive our abusers. But are we forgiving just to make others feel more comfortable?
for·give 1. to cease to blame or hold anger/resentment against (someone or something) 2. to grant pardon for (a mistake, wrongdoing, etc) 3. (tr) to free or pardon (someone) from penalty 4. (tr) to free from the obligation of (a debt, payment, etc)
In general, for me, forgiveness is coming to a place of peace and compassion with myself and others. It is not the same as condoning.
I tend to go back and forth with the topic of forgiveness when it comes to my own past childhood sexual abuse. There are many things to consider in the realm of forgiveness and child sexual abuse. Anger and fear are not good things for anyone to hold on to. However, forgiveness needs to be defined because forgiveness means different things to different people. How can you forgive your abuser if you still blame yourself for the abuse? Does forgiving your abuser mean that your relationship is restored to how things were before you were abused? Most likely not, the abuse changed your relationship and the abuser is still not safe to have around children.
If the topic of forgiveness is that important to the individual survivor then I think the following prerequisites should be considered. The following is a list I came up with …
Forgiveness prerequisites for Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) survivors:
- The survivor no longer feels shame, guilt, and/or blame surrounding the past CSA.
- The survivor feels some sense of justice surrounding the past CSA.
- The survivor feels self-forgiveness.
- The survivor redefines forgiveness in a way that is healthy and realistic for the survivor’s healing.
- The survivor has allowed themselves time to grieve their losses due to the abuse and each relationship surrounding the abuse. Grief has no time limit.
- The survivor is NOT confusing forgiveness with minimizing trauma.
- The survivor is NOT using forgiveness as a shortcut to emotional healing or as a guarantee against further abuse or to gain family support.
Other questions to consider when considering forgiveness:
What are your motives surrounding forgiveness?
Who is the focus of your forgiveness?
Yourself: You are innocent! Always start with yourself because you did nothing wrong. You should not feel guilty for the abuse done to you. It was not your fault. Self-forgiveness is more important than forgiving others involved in the abuse … It is your choice alone if you choice to forgive others involved and to what extent. For me, forgiveness of the primary abuser/s of sexual assault is not a requirement for healing. But if you choose to go there then make sure you have forgiven yourself first and considered the other prerequisites.
Secondary Abuser: Those who did not abuse you directly but did not believe you or defended or protected the abuser from consequences or justice. This could be a parent or guardian, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, or other relative or friend of the family. Again follow the prerequisites and check your motives.
Forgiveness should not be an overwhelming burdensome process that brings you to a point of despair. If it feels forced or if you feel like you are doing it to please someone else then maybe this is not the right time and should be revisited later. You may still need to grieve more for this relationship or express anger. Expressing anger is part of the grieving process. It is okay to be angry with someone that should have protected you and failed to help you or protected the abuser from justice. These topics can be overwhelming so remember safety for yourself and others comes first. Things to remember about grief and mourning …
The following are myths about grief and mourning:
- Grief and mourning decline in a steadily decreasing fashion over time.
- All losses prompt the same type of mourning.
- Bereaved individuals need only express their feelings in order to resolve their mourning.
- To be healthy after the death of a loved one, the mourner must put that person out of mind.
- Grief will affect the mourner psychologically but will not interfere in other ways.
- Intensity and length of mourning are a testimony to love for the deceased.
- When one mourns a death, one mourns only the loss of that person and nothing else.
- Losing someone to a sudden, unexpected death is the same as losing someone to an anticipated death.
- Mourning is over in a year.
- Time heals all wounds.
From Therese A. Rando, Treatment of Complicated Mourning (1993), Research Press, Champaign, IL, p. 27–28.
Common Misconceptions about Healing – by Dee Ann Miller, RN, BS
The 5 Stages of Loss and Grief By JULIE AXELROD
When it comes to the stages of grief, for CSA survivors, the process is often evolving and repeats.
Abusers/Perpetrators/Sexual Predators: Call them what you like but they are guilty of sexual crimes against a child. Weather this person is a hands-on or hands-off abuser, either type is a crime and harms the victim and leaves a lifelong impact. Forgiveness is a choice and not a requirement to heal.
Often family, friends, community, and society in general pressure CSA survivors to forgive the abuser without allowing the survivor time to grieve or heal and many times when no justice has been dealt to the abuser. They also expect if the survivor has forgiven then the survivor will never bring up the topic again. Do they want us to forgive because the topic is too uncomfortable to listen to? “You should be over this by now!” “If you forgave him/her (the abuser) then you would not be having all these problems” Insisting a survivor forgive someone just so you can feel more comfortable does not help the survivor. The survivor’s memories are not erased because they choose to forgive. There may still be PTSD triggers that bring back unpleasant events surrounding the abuse. Insisting the survivor forgives places guilt and shame back on the survivor for crimes that were committed against them. Somehow it is now the survivor’s fault because if they just forgave the abuser then there would be no problem. Why don’t our families, friends, community, society ask the question/s:
- Did our abusers accept responsibility for their crimes?
- Did the abuser seek help to prevent future abuse?
- Did our abusers show remorse and offer financial amends to the survivor/s?
- Did our abusers respect our boundaries and expect NOTHING in return regardless of whether we choose to grant forgiveness or not?
- How many other children were abused by this person?
- Is our abuser currently abusing a child? Does our abuser have access to other children that he/she may be abusing?
If the abuser wants forgiveness then they should accept being held accountable for their crimes and accepting they could still be a threat to other children.
To report abuse happening to a child (17 and under) call:
In the USA: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) http://www.childhelp.org/pages/hotline-home or https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/reslist/rl_dsp.cfm?rs_id=5&rate_chno=11-11172
Child helpline international: http://www.childhelplineinternational.org/where-we-work/
“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different, it’s accepting the past for what it was, and using this moment and this time to help yourself move forward.”-Oprah Winfrey
One Survivor’s quote: “I don’t care about my abuser. It is not my job to forgive him. He can ask for his own forgiveness when he is in prayer. I don’t have the power to forgive him. But I do deserve to forgive myself and create a life for myself.”
Forgiving an abuser or secondary abuser is second to forgiving ourselves. Until we heal, until we live a life worth living, how do we have the energy to forgive another? For me forgiveness is about accepting the past and forgiving ourselves. It is pointless to forgive another human being when we cannot forgive ourselves.
Other things to consider that forgiveness does not automatically change:
- Forgiveness is not a cure all for the survivor. Forgiveness does not delete or erase memories or remove aftereffects such as PTSD. The survivor will still have to process and continue in their cycle of healing. Forgiveness, like healing, is an evolutionary process when it comes to child sexual abuse. The survivor has the right to change their mind if they choice to forgive the abuser one day and not forgive the next day.
- Forgiveness does not delete or erase the guilt, shame, accountability, consequences of the crimes committed by the abuser. The shame and the guilt should be sitting squarely on the shoulders of the abuser NOT the victim even if the victim choices not to forgive the abuser.
- Forgiveness does not restore broken relationships. Forgiveness is not the same as reunification. Reunification is typically unhealthy with a child sex offender or with a family that does not support the survivor in their recovery.
- Forgiveness does not restore the abuser to a status where they should be trusted around children. Boundaries and safety should still be maintained for the victim if they choice to be around their abuser. Children should never be left alone with a child predator and it would be best to avoid taking children around a child predator regardless of family connection or how special the family occasion (ie weddings, funerals, holidays, etc).
- Forgiveness does not protect the abuser from being exposed as sexual predator to family, friends, and the community. Forgiveness does not mean that you keep this person in the shadows and the sexual abuse a secret for the rest of your life. This is how more children get hurt … this is how denial continues. No more secrets. Other children need to be protected from this person.
For some survivors, forgiveness lightens their conscience, while for other survivors it places an unnecessary burden on them. Forgiveness should not be a burden, it is a choice. The burden should be on the abuser not the victim. If a survivor is struggling with the need to forgive their abuser and are considering suicide or self-harm as the only alternative if they are unable to forgive then this is not the right time to work on forgiveness of the abuser (if ever). If a survivor is even entertaining thoughts of self-harm or suicide then they need to return to a safety plan and focus on forgiving and being gentle with themselves. The shame and the guilt of what happen should be squarely on the shoulders of the abuser not the victim. Forgive yourself before all others. You are innocent!
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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I will be adding to my list of resources for 2013 the 2nd Edition of Sibling Abuse Trauma Assessment and Intervention Strategies for Children, Families, and Adults By John V. Caffaro.
The following is a link to purchase the book on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Sibling-Abuse-Trauma-Assessment-Intervention/dp/0415506867/ref=sr_1_sc_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1380936432&sr=1-1-spell&keywords=john+caffro
I am also including a link to Google books because they provide a free preview of some of the book’s content: http://books.google.com/books?id=HXeAAAAAQBAJ&pg=PR1&dq=Sibling+Abuse+Trauma:+Assessment+and+Intervention+Strategies+for+Children,+Families,+and+Adults&hl=en&sa=X&ei=vj3VUrLTKrLOsATG14CgBA&ved=0CEAQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false
The following is a brief description of the book: This book describes an integrative, strengths-based approach to individual and family psychotherapy guided by the effects of abuse trauma on the development of sibling relationships. It fills a void in the training and education of family violence professionals and validates sibling experiences as an important part of human development. The second edition has been revised and updated to reflect more than 15 years of advances in the child maltreatment field. Current essential information on sibling development is provided to clarify the context in which sibling relationships unfold, and research on sibling relationships throughout the life course is incorporated into a clinical approach for treating victims and survivors. This second edition, much like the first, focuses primarily on assessment and treatment. Rather than choosing to concentrate solely on sibling sexual abuse or assault, the book applies a more inclusive, integrative approach to the study of sibling abuse trauma. The clinical material and experiences portrayed take a trauma-informed systemic orientation and represent children, families, and adults who may not have been described adequately elsewhere. Concrete illustrations and extended session transcripts demonstrate therapeutic principles in action. Whether you incorporate these findings into your clinical practice or become inspired to conduct your own research, Sibling Abuse Trauma will improve your understanding of how to treat and evaluate individuals and families with sibling abuse-related concerns.