Immediate Effects on Siblings

Siblings are secondary victims when a child is sexually abused. If the abuser is someone they care about, such as father, brother, grandfather, they may not know whether to support the victim or the perpetrator. They may be ambivalent and conflicted. This may result in anger, confusion, and guilt.

Hauggard and Reppucci (1988) discuss siblings in The Sexual Abuse of Children and report that a year after the disclosure of incest, siblings are the most disturbed members of the family. Sexual abuse disclosure causes major disruptions in any family, and siblings are impacted by the all these changes. They experience considerable loss in their lives and usually do not receive support in coping with this process.

Siblings experience immediate emotional consequences following disclosure. They may feel anger, anxiety, fear, guilt, shame,and confusion. They may struggle with denial, unwillingness to believe, thoughts of concern for the perpetrator, responsibility, denial, and minimization of the abusive incidents. They may experience loss of home, family structure, security, stability, trust, safety, and economic status. Disclosure may affect the school siblings attend, their friendship circle, and available extended family support. And they may have no context within which to place these changes. They simply do not understand the family process in which they are involved. This lack of understanding contributes to increased helplessness and a feeling of victimization.

Following the disclosure, the victim will usually be scheduled for an interview and a medical examination to determine extent and damage caused by the abuse. At that time siblings may not have disclosed their own sexual abuse. It is important to remember that in incestuous families, if one child has been abused, it is likely that others have. It may be necessary to provide a medial examination for siblings. This will also give them an opportunity to disclose if they have been abused. If they are not able to do this, however, the medical examination may provide evidence of prior abuse.

Most children do not tell about sexual abuse. It is possible that siblings will continue  unable to disclose or discuss their own abuse. Loyalty to the perpetrator and fear of consequences are significant barriers for all children. If siblings are provided counseling in the early post-disclosure time period, they may be able to process emotions and cope with the family changes without long-term residual consequences.

Siblings are also anxious about what others may say about their family if the sexual abuse is known. They may feel stigmatized and set apart. This can result in a range of problematic behaviors. The mother's understanding and support is necessary to all the children in the family if they are to manage the emotions that follow disclosure.  

See other pages on site that address sibling issues:
Siblings: Secondary Victims
Parenting Siblings
Needs of Siblings


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