Sibling Abuser

When disclosure of sexual abuse involves another child, the victim's sibling, as perpetratormothers face a dilemma in role and responsibility. The emotional factor is more complex than that of a husband or adult partner as perpetrator. The child or adolescent perpetrator is not able to leave the home and live independently. You, as parent, are responsible for this child as well as the victim. That does not mean the perpetrator may not have to leave the home for a period of time, but it implies that you continue to be equally responsible for both children.

The perpetrator is also in distress and could be at significant risk of self-harm or self-destructive activities. Your loyalty and emotional energy will split. The decision to report the crime or press charges is also complicated by fears and concerns of the consequences to the perpetrator. The self-blame and guilt is intensified as you feel responsible for the perpetrator and feel a sense of failure as parent.  

The mother's pain, confusion, and ambivalence  is increased in cases involving two of her children. The questions are very different as you search for reasons that your child did this. Some of the questions include:
  • Was he or she sexually abused?
  • How, where, from whom did he learn this behavior?
  • What allowed this child to act out in this way?
  • How am I to blame? What did I do wrong?

Mothers also fear that it the abuse will re-occur or that other children were victimized. The fear for your child is in conflict with your concern for other victims. Other siblings may be distressed at the family crisis and express opinions. The family unit is fracturing and may initially appear unsalvageable as you observe the destructive consequences in  family members.

One of the hallmarks of a mother's ability to protect the victim is her ability to distance herself and the victim from the perpetrator. When the perpetrator is your child, this may only be a temporary solution. Your offending child needs help and needs treatment. Making the decision for your child to enter treatment and get help to stop the offending behavior is in the best interest of your child. However, it may not feel like it is. Take advantage of all the supportive resources available to you, take care of yourself, and do your best to manage your thoughts and feelings.  

Families face space and supervision difficulties when the abuser is a sibling. Rick Morris, in Protecting and Parenting Sexually Abused Children (2006), outlines some of these. The following list is adapted from this work.

  • Sleeping arrangements must minimize risk and provide the greatest protection and sense of safety to the victim and any other children in the home. Establish family Rules and Guidelines.
  • Children must be closely supervised by an adult. Whenever the abusive sibling is around children, mothers must be close by and be alert and aware.
  • Bathroom use must have specific rules to insure privacy and protection.Establish family rules and guidelines.
  • Family secrets must be prohibited. Many families have a generational pattern that maintains the code of secrecy, and beliefs systems are difficult to change. Education regarding the danger of secret-keeping is helpful. Open communication will facilitate increased conversation regarding difficult topics.
  • Adequate child-care arrangements are essential. If an older sibling has previously provided care for younger children, a responsible adult is now necessary. It is not realistic to expect a sibling to monitor a child's safety when it involves sexual abuse by another sibling.
  • Some childhood games that are routinely engaged in by siblings are no longer appropriate. These include wrestling, tickling, hide-and-seek, and playing house.



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