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Sibling abuse typically takes place between blood relatives, or step-siblings close to each other in age. Usually, the victim and the abuser live under the same roof, making it even more difficult to recognize, report or manage. Like other forms of abuse, it is not limited to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
What Is Sibling Abuse?
Sibling abuse, also referred to as sibling bullying, or ‘forgotten abuse’ is the physical, emotional/psychological, and/or sexual abuse of one sibling by another.1,2 It is the most common form of family violence, even more so than parent-child abuse.3 It is important to understand the difference between typical, healthy sibling conflict and rivalry versus abuse, in which there is intention to cause harm or control the victim.
Sibling abuse falls into the following categories: 1,4,5
- Physical Abuse: May be brushed off as sibling rivalry as it is often fighting that is deemed “normal” childhood behavior. Sibling physical abuse include behaviors such as hitting, biting, shoving, choking, punching, slapping, etc.
- Emotional Abuse: May also be referred to as psychological abuse or emotional maltreatment. The abuser has the intention of making the victim feel lesser than, creating a sense of low self-esteem or social withdrawal. Examples of sibling emotional abuse include name-calling, belittling, teasing, insulting, threatening, destroying property, relational aggression, intimidation and asserting power or control.
- Sexual Abuse: Using power to bribe or threaten a sibling into sexual activity. The abuser is typically an older or stronger sibling who wins the trust of their younger, ‘weaker’ sibling. Examples of sibling sexual abuse include touching, penetration, coercion, using force, watching sexually explicit content or watching their victim get dressed or shower.
Bullying & Abuse vs. Normal Sibling Rivalries
Understanding the difference between sibling rivalry or conflict and sibling abuse or bullying is important. The main difference is the severity, frequency and nature of the conflict.6 Sibling rivalry often occurs over “tangible or intangible resources” and through the guidance of parents, can effectively be resolved. Sibling abuse differs as these conflicts often arise without reason, and often become more aggressive.