As siblings are secondary victims of sexual abuse
, their needs must also be prioritized by mothers
and professionals working with the family
. Child siblings are aware that something traumatic has occurred in their family and are afraid, anxious, and confused. If the perpetrator
is a member of the family, their loyalties will be torn between the abusers
and the victim
. Hall and Lloyd (1989) outline some of the issues that siblings face, and these include:
- Awareness that it had been occurring, but disclosure is the first time that abuse is openly discussed.
- Feels responsible or guilty about the abuse because of failure to protect the sibling or not telling about it.
- May have been threatened or bribed to hold the secret.
- May also have been sexually abused and not disclosed. One study showed that over 50% of siblings had also been abused (Anthony and Watkeys, 1991).
Siblings need help in dealing with the chaotic home environment following disclosure. If the perpetrator is a family member, siblings need help in dealing with family dynamics that were in place prior to the disclosure. Examples of family problems that siblings face include:
- Relationship problems among family members.
- Role reversals.
- Rivalry among siblings.
- Jealousy of the attention the victim gets.
- Guilt or gratitude because they were not the victim.
- Competition and antagonism among siblings.
- Sexualized environment. The victim may have introduced other children to sexual behaviors. All children may be more vulnerable to future abuse.
- Siblings may feel different from the victim and distance themselves.
- Love and affection. Touching a shoulder, hugging or rocking a child will reassure the child that the mother is still there for her.
- Attention. Siblings need to know they are important and their needs are important. The family can not revolve around the victim and expect to regain balance.
- Support. They are secondary victims and need to be included in the recovery process.
- Honesty and openness. Do not lie to the other children about what is going on. Tell them the truth with information that is developmentally appropriate.
- Counseling. Make sure that counseling, therapy, and support groups are available to siblings so they can safely discuss their feelings and work on their issues.
- If they have also been abused, they need to be given the same opportunities as the initial child and the same attention. If more than one child has been abused, it is possible that the mother, as well as investigative processes, will not be as supportive to the next child. Be careful to provide ample support, belief, and affirmation.
Siblings may also be offenders, and a previously abused child can offend against another sibling. This is a complex and emotion-laden dynamic. Usually the sibling who has offended leaves the home, at least for a period of time. The child requires treatment - of both kinds. Victim and offender treatment. Sometimes the victimization is minimized when the child offends against another child. This is possibly the most difficult dilemma a mother faces because she loves both children. The home must be safe for all children. If a sibling has ever abused another child, the home environment must be strictly guarded with house rules, bathroom rules, bedroom rules, and guidelines to cover possible risky times, areas, and behaviors.
Siblings of sexually abused children may feel lost and alone, confused and left out, and guilty and grateful. As children, their developmental needs may go unmet for some short period of time. This crisis need not disrupt the siblings life long-term. Open communication, family therapy, and loving support will help siblings get through this difficult time in their lives.
Other pages on this site that address sibling issues:
Immediate Effects on Siblings
Siblings: Secondary Victims