9 Risk Factors for Sexual Abuse Among Siblings

Sexual abuse can occur between siblings
Jamie Grill / Getty Images

Although no parent wants to imagine that sexual abuse could occur under their roof, sexual abuse between siblings can happen. Unfortunately, much of the sexual contact that goes on between children is never reported and never treated by mental health professionals.

It’s important for parents to be aware of the risk factors that increase the chances that one child may perpetrate against another:

1. Blended Families

Stepsiblings are more likely to become perpetrators.

Stepchildren often enter into a new household after experiencing loss of some type and frequently, there is rivalry among children as they compete for their place in the family. Unhealthy relationships may form and in some cases, those unhealthy interactions may include sexual abuse.

2. Older Sibling Has Too Much Responsibility

When teens are given too much responsibility over younger children, family roles become blurred. Teens lack resources to properly care for younger children and they may act out aggressive tendencies or seek emotional attachment in an inappropriate manner.

3. A Child with a Mental Health Problem Has Power Over Other Children

Teens with serious mental health problems should never be given the responsibility to care for younger children. Impulsive or aggressive teens may behave inappropriately with siblings due to poor judgement. Even when a teen’s mental health seems to have improved, it’s best to avoid stressful situations that could cause a relapse.

4. Previous Victimization

While the vast majority of teens who are victimized don’t ever become perpetrators, some of them do. Teens who have been sexually abused should not be given the responsibility to care for younger siblings.

5. A Sexualized Environment

While hugging and kissing in front of children can be healthy, highly sexualized behavior can be detrimental.

It’s important for children to learn appropriate boundaries and privacy. Leaving the bathroom door open, showering with children, or exposing children to nudity may confuse them and lead to sexual acting out.

6. Access to Pornography

Watching pornography increases the chances that a child will engage in experimental sexual behavior. Today’s digital world means many children and teens are exposed to pornography – sometimes unintentionally – via the internet. Monitor your teen’s online activity and take steps to prevent access to pornography. 

7. Lack of Healthy Peer Relationships

Peer relationships are a critical part of a teen’s development. When teens lack social interaction – either due to parental constraints or difficulties making friends – they’re more likely to behave inappropriate with siblings. While healthy family relationships are important, teens shouldn’t rely on siblings to be their only social outlet.

8. Little or No Sex Education

Children and teens need information about puberty, sexuality, and sexual activity. Without proper education on issues like “good” and “bad” touches, children are more likely to be victimized.

Additionally, when children aren’t given facts about sex, they’re more likely to be confused about their growing bodies and the sexualized images they encounter in the media.

Teens who feel comfortable asking parents questions about sex are less likely to satisfy their curiosity in an inappropriate manner. Talk to your children about sex and encourage them to ask questions. 

9. Verbal or Physical Abuse Between Siblings

Sexual abuse between siblings is often about power and control. A teen who is verbally or physically abusive to younger siblings, may be more likely engage in sexual abuse as well. Address any type of abuse and bullying between siblings immediately.

Address Sexual Abuse Immediately

If you suspect your teen has engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with a sibling – or another child –seek immediate professional help for both the victim and the perpetrator.

Treatment should address safety issues and reduce the risk that the offender will engage in inappropriate contact again in the future. 


Letourneau, E. J., & Borduin, C. M. (2008). The Effective Treatment of Juveniles Who Sexually Offend: An Ethical Imperative. Ethics & Behavior,18(2/3), 286–306. doi:10.1080/10508420802066940

Letourneau, E. J., Henggeler, S. W., Borduin, C. M., Schewe, P. A., McCart, M. R., Chapman, J. E., & Saldana, L. (2009). Multisystemic Therapy for Juvenile Sexual Offenders: 1-Year Results from a Randomized Effectiveness Trial. Journal of Family Psychology : JFP : Journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43)23(1), 89–102. doi:10.1037/a0014352

Continue Reading