6 Facts About Sibling Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse can occur among siblings.
Elke Meitzel / Cultura / Getty Images

Allegations that Josh Duggar, the oldest son on the reality show 19 Kids and Counting, molested at least one of his sisters has sparked a lot of media conversation about sibling sexual abuse. The news has left many families wondering how this alleged type of abuse could take place within a family.

Unfortunately, sexual abuse among siblings is much more common than most people know. It’s not limited to certain types of families – it occurs in many different kinds of households.

Sexual abuse among siblings can go on for a long time before parents are made aware of the issue. And sadly, some parents don’t take appropriate action when they’re made aware of the problem.

Here are seven facts about sexual abuse among siblings that all parents should know:

1. Juveniles are Frequent Offenders

When people hear the term “sex offender,” they picture an adult. But, sex offenders can be minors. In fact, more than one-third of sex offenses against children are committed by other minors, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Easy access to siblings makes it more likely that an underage offender will choose someone within the household. 

2. Parents Doubt Victims When the Perpetrator is a Minor

Unfortunately, many children who reveal sexual abuse by a sibling aren’t believed by the parents. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence found that parents were much more likely to blame their child for the abuse, or doubt the story altogether, when the perpetrator was a minor.

It can be especially hard for parents to believe that the perpetrator is their child. 

3. Most Offenders are in Mid-Adolescence

Most of the research indicates that the average age of a juvenile sex offender is 15. Approximately 1 in 8 juvenile offenders are under the age of 12, however. The average age of a victim is 9.

Sexual abuse between siblings can occur at any age but there’s often several years age difference between the victim and the perpetrator.

4. Males are More Likely to Commit Sexual Assault

Of all the juvenile sex offenses, only about 7% are committed by females. When females do commit sex offenses, however, they are much more likely to victimize family members, however. It’s important to remember that perpetrators sometimes choose same sex siblings as well.

5. Sexual Abuse Among Siblings is Underreported

Estimates suggest that sibling abuse is greatly underreported to authorities. A 2002 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that at least 2.3% of children have been victimized by a sibling. Only about .12% are abused by an adult family member.

Sibling offenders tend to commit more sex crimes over time if they don’t receive treatment. A 1999 study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence found that sexualized behavior is likely to become more intrusive over time.

6. Sibling Abuse Can Lead to Long-Term Consequences

Just like other forms of childhood trauma, sexual abuse by a sibling can have long-lasting effects on a victim. Survivors of sexual abuse may feel like they were to blame, or they may convince themselves they were a co-conspirator, rather than a victim. There’s often a deep sense of shame that occurs when the perpetrator was a family member.

Sometimes survivors experience sexual dysfunction, mental health problems, or PTSD as a result of the abuse as well. Unfortunately, due to the nature of sibling abuse, the sense of powerlessness can be more pervasive compared to sexual abuse perpetrated by others. Adult survivors sometimes experience ongoing relationship problems as a result.

Parental Awareness of Sibling Abuse

Educate yourself about the risk factors of sibling sexual abuse and take appropriate steps to prevent inappropriate sexual contact. If you suspect sexual abuse is going on in your home, it’s important to seek professional treatment for both the perpetrator and the victim. Specialized services are necessary to ensure safety and to prevent further incidents of unwanted sexual contact.

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