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Abuse, whether it be physical, emotional, or sexual, can infiltrate a family setting and alter the dynamics greatly. Within a family there are different relationships and bonds, and each one of those relationships may have a different motive and form of abuse within it. A type of abuse within a family that does not receive much attention from society is abuse by siblings. In general, abuse within a family is thought of as a parent abusing a child and asserting their authority in such a way, but the matter of abuse by a sibling is also very important to understand and there are many implications of such abuse. This research paper will address the importance of sibling relationships to further understand the implications that come about from abuse within them, what healthy sibling relationships should look like, the commonality of different relationships of siblings having incest, types of family configurations where sibling abuse is present, and the treatments of siblings that abuse and are victims of abuse. Four articles will be used to understand the issue, “Sibling Family Practices: Guidelines for Healthy Boundaries” (2009) , “Sibling Incest: Reports from Forty-One Survivors” (2006), “Making Sense of Abuse: Case Studies in Sibling Incest” (2006), and “Treating Sibling Abuse Families” (2005).
Abuse is a very powerful word that comes with many connotations. The actual definition of abuse has problems with it because it is not universally accepted and the perceptions of abuse from individual to individual vary greatly. Everyone has their own personal opinion on what abuse consists of and in general it is typically thought of as causing harm to another person. Abuse is an issue that has many intersecting factors and many layers that are rooted deep in relationships. One type of abuse that is of great importance, as are the others, is sibling abuse. Sibling abuse is abuse that is perpetrated by one sibling to another and may be physical abuse or sexual abuse, known as incest. The importance of this type of abuse is that it is not given much attention in society and it is difficult to comprehend. Society does not recognize sibling abuse as easily as it will recognize abuse between intimate partners or even abuse between parents and their children. Due to the lack of awareness it is very important to understand what a healthy sibling relationship is, cases of sibling abuse, and treatments of the siblings. By looking at four articles, a view of the issue will come into focus and some light will be shed on the issue of sibling abuse.
In Johnson, Huang, and Simpson’s research, “Sibling Family Practices: Guidelines for Healthy Boundaries,” (2009) surveys help conclude what is socially acceptable and what is not within a family. The survey was taken of five hundred people and their opinions generally corresponded. The research showed that when it came to hygiene, bathing together is acceptable for children younger than five if they are of the same gender. If the children are of different genders, the research shows that it is acceptable for children younger than four to bathe together. Showering is a similar issue, being acceptable for same gendered siblings that are younger than six and acceptable for different gendered siblings younger than four and a half years. The data also reflects adults’ opinions regarding affection, with the statistics on kissing being “37% saying siblings should never kiss on the mouth and 23% of people saying they should kiss at all ages.” (Johnson, Huang, Simpson, 2009). Hugging is widely accepted between siblings. Caffaro and Caffaro address healthy sibling development in “Treating Sibling Abuse Families” (2005). Caffaro and Caffaro lend a look at the development of sibling relationships, explaining that “sibling ties begin in childhood with parents writing the script.” (Caffaro & Caffaro, 2005). It is common for parents to assign roles for their children without actively meaning to do so. Siblings are often raised being in a natural competition with their sibling and trying to live up to the label that has been placed upon them by their parents. An example would be labeling a child as “the smart one” and their sibling as “the polite one”. These two children would compete against each other to keep their title from the other and would also strive to maintain their title, forming it into their self-identity.
Carlson, Maciol, and Schneider conducted research in “Sibling Incest: Reports from Forty-One Survivors” (2006) in order to get a concise picture of sibling sexual abuse. The research was conducted using thirty-four women and seven men and the majority of the forty-one participants were of white. The study conclusions found that three of the males initiated sexual behavior with their sisters and the other men were victims of sibling incest that was brought on by brothers of theirs. Four women of the study were victims of sibling incest because of their sisters and the other thirty women were sexually abused by brothers. The research from this article clearly shows that males are the most common perpetrators of sibling incest and women are more likely to be the victims, but men are also sometimes the victims of sibling abuse brought on by brothers. Corresponding with this data, Caffaro and Caffaro found that sixty-three percent of the women in their study were victims of incest due to their brothers’ sexual assault. In contrast to the prior study, “Treating Sibling Abuse Families” (2009) found that the second most common form of sibling incest is from one brother to another, the next most common being sisters sexually abusing their brothers, and the least common form being sisters sexually abusing their sisters. (Caffaro & Caffaro, 2005).
As discussed earlier, it is difficult for society to see all of these cases as abuse and incest because of the difficulties there are in defining abuse and there are also different views between families of what is acceptable and normal. In “Making Sense of Abuse: Case Studies in Sibling Incest” (2006), Bass, Taylor, Knudson-Martin, and Huenergardt discuss the possibility of abuse being seen as normal within a family. The research done in the article is case studies that follow two Latin American families where sibling incest was present. One of the families viewed abuse as normal and used secrecy as a way to maintain the abuse. Also, the family did not see outside systems as positive and held the opinion that the systems were invading their personal lives. The second family in the research differed from the first in the way that they viewed abuse as a mistake and unacceptable and they used secrecy to protect rather than perpetuate abuse. The second family also differed in seeing outside systems and legitimate and, although the systems caused some hardships, they saw them as appropriate and not intrusive as the first had. (Bass, Taylor, Knudson-Martin, Huenergardt, 2006).
Treatment for sibling abuse may begin with what is referred to as a Sibling Abuse Interview, or SAI for short. (Caffaro & Caffaro, 2005). The SAI functions by asking questions of all family members about the relationships that are currently between the siblings and also the history of those relationships. The SAI asks questions that deal with abuse and trauma and also points out areas of family resilience. Treatment is usually similar to treatment of other forms of abuse, but the therapy is slightly modified. There are two different perspectives when it comes to sexual abuse of children and they are the Child Protection Movement and the Feminist Movement. The Child Protection Movement holds the philosophy that the child victim is the most important at that time and that the entire family is responsible for protecting that child and providing them safety. The ultimate goal of the Child Protective Movement is to reunite the family with a healthier way of living. The Feminist Movement favors advocacy over all others. This perspective feels that it is necessary and most beneficial for the victim to have an advocate on their side that is determined to establish protection for that child in the present and the future as well. The Feminist Movement supports family reconciliation, but it does not hold it as a top priority. (Crosson-Tower, 2010). These two theories produce different forms of treatment and have different strategies for treating the victims of incest. Both hold the victim’s protection above all else but they differ in terms of what is best for the child, whether it be healthy family practices or advocacy for the victim.
The four studies discussed help to give a broad understanding of sibling incest, from the healthy sibling relationships that are used as basis, what sibling incest can be interpreted as in terms of common types, family influences on sibling incest regarding their mindsets, to the treatment and outcomes of sibling incest. The studies were largely consistent and all painted pictures that corresponded with one another. There were some minor discrepancies in findings, such as the commonality of different forms of sibling incest, but in general the larger messages were all the same. The implications of the research presented is a better awareness of sibling incest and the ability to recognize red flags when they are present. Sibling incest is more prominent than society likes to think and without understanding sibling incest, it is difficult to prevent it from happening. With understanding, family structures that allow for incest can be recognized and sibling incest can hopefully be diminished.
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