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Our Voices Blog

by 5WAVES, Inc.

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Updated: Nov 18, 2023



Last month’s blog post, “How Your Inner Child and Inner Critic Interfere with Keeping Your Kids Safe,” explains how our own traumas and fears can hold us back when talking to our children about sexual boundaries.


This month, we are deepening the discussion by answering the question, “How to keep your child safe at home?”


Typically when parents think about children’s safety, they think about “stranger danger” or concerns about someone outside the family. However, studies suggest that at least one-third of childhood sexual abuse is perpetrated by other children and young people, like siblings, cousins or neighbors (Yates and Allardyce, 2021).


Specifically, sibling sexual abuse is often largely unreported, which makes gaining exact statistics challenging, however, it is believed to be one of the most common forms of intrafamilial sexual abuse.


As someone who was sexually abused by a sibling, when I first heard these statistics, I felt both heartbroken that there were so many others and also validated. It wasn’t just me and it wasn’t just my family. That being said, there are some things my parents could have done to keep both me, and my abuser, safe.


First off, sexual violence prevention expert Dr. Elizabeth Jeglic assures that the best way to protect against any sexual mistreatment is by talking about sex with your children in an open and deliberate way, starting at a young age. When sex is discussed early and often, and with anatomically correct terms, sexual experiences tend to happen later in life and with less negative experiences.


Explaining safe body boundaries, such as who should or shouldn’t be touching a child where, and in what setting, teaches children about personal space. One simple way to do this is by using the bathing suit rule. Imagine they are wearing a bathing suit and all body parts covered by the bathing suit are private areas. It could also be helpful to remind all siblings that the bathing suit rule applies to them as well, at all times. That is, they should never touch a sibling in their private areas, whether the sibling is awake or asleep.


When talking with children about the bathing suit rule, remind them that only certain people like adult caregivers and doctors, should see or touch those parts and only at specific times. But, if there is a time when an appropriate adult does touch them and it doesn’t feel comfortable, then it’s important to talk about it and not keep it a secret.


In today’s world, it only takes one typo for a Google search to become an illicit experience for all ages. That’s why preparing for the inevitable by instilling parental controls on devices, checking browser history, and talking about what is appropriate and not appropriate online behavior is crucial.


As children grow up, continue to check in on the ever-present adult content floating around the internet. Defend Young Minds reports 50% of parents underestimate their child’s exposure to pornography. In Brad Watts’ book Sibing Sexual Abuse: A Guide for Confronting America’s Silent Epidemic, he discusses that early and frequent exposure to pornography is largely linked to sibling sexual abuse, which is why continuing the conversation is important.


Here are three steps Defend Young Minds suggests when talking with children about pornography: 1) have a definition of the word 2) state a warning or consequence so they have a reason to reject it 3) create a plan so they know how to respond if they come across it.


Another risk factor to sibling sexual abuse is accessibility. This means that family behavior, family rules, and even the arrangement of the house, can play an important role in safety. For example, discouraging children from sleeping in the same bed (even same-gendered children), establishing rules related to household nudity, discussing an open-door policy (even for those sharing a room) and having the caregiver’s room in close proximity to the children’s room are ways to reduce risk.


Babysitting is a common occurrence for families, whether it's by an older sibling, a cousin, neighbor or grandparent. So, when using a babysitter, take a moment to sit down with the sitter to explain the rules of the household, such as what is appropriate to watch and view on the internet. If there is a bedtime routine, discuss bathtime, or moments of changing into pajamas. Explain the rules related to privacy, noting that your child has a comfortable understanding of the bathing suit rule.


If they are an older minor, talk with them about their increased responsibility to care for another’s physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. This can instill a sense of pride for the job being done. Explain the importance of their behaviors and actions and, if possible, let them know you’ll be checking in regularly. Then, once you’re back home, check in with the younger child and ask them about their experience of the babysitter.


Another tool to not discredit is your own intuition. Pay attention if something feels “off” within your house. Following your instincts might lead to an uncomfortable conversation, but could potentially prevent years of hurt and pain.


Preventing sexual mistreatment in young children can often be overlooked, but by using open communication, clear boundaries, and your own parental instincts, you can help keep your home the safest place for your family.


Brinn Langdale, LMFT is a therapist, speaker, writer, podcast host and SSA survivor and thriver. Visit brinnlangdale.com for more insights and to access free guides and resources about healing trauma and more.


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guest blog by Brinn Langdale, LMFT

Talking to your child about sex can be uncomfortable, although it’s scarier to think about them not being physically safe with siblings. It is estimated that one in twenty children are sexually abused by a brother or sister—although it's not a topic a lot of people are talking about.


Sometimes, a parent’s interior monologue can interfere with teaching their children how to stay safe. If you’re someone who thinks, “I’m scared to talk to my child about sex because I don’t want to say the wrong thing and alarm them,” you might actually be listening to the voice of your Inner Child. Or, if you worry that talking about sex will pique your child’s interest in sex, that could be the Inner Child as well.


Let me explain: We all have an Inner Child. It’s the part of ourselves who lives life based on past experiences. Motivated largely by fear, our Inner Child is often locked in survival mode, preparing for worst case scenarios in order to avoid the discomfort of things going wrong.


Over half the women in the United States, and one third of the men have experienced sexual trauma—including myself—and this kind of personal history makes any conversation about sex and boundaries more difficult. Anything related to this topic can activate a fear response from our Inner Child, causing us to become emotionally charged and overwhelmed. That overwhelm can lead to avoidance of necessary conversations or overprotection of children that does not supply them with the knowledge they need to keep themselves safe.


On the other hand, it’s the Inner Critic who tells you that your child is too young for a conversation about sexual boundaries or that your children love each other and would never hurt each other. The Inner Critic might even suggest that home is a place where you never have to worry about your children’s safety.


The Inner Critic doesn’t always sound critical. It’s the voice that judges and measures how good enough, important, or meaningful something is. Like the Inner Child, it focuses on survival and protection. It might convince you that you’re not knowledgeable enough to talk to your kids about sexual boundaries, or that if you were a better parent you could keep your child safe from everything. It might minimize the need for a talk about sex, because, similar to the Inner Child, this part of ourselves avoids the uncomfortable.


The Inner Child and the Inner Critic exist for a good reason. They help us watch out for danger, push us to be better human beings, and ultimately want good things for us. However, they are not the right leaders for a conversation about sexual safety. That role is reserved for the logical, level-headed, informed, and educated part of ourselves: The Adult.


The Adult operates from reality. It’s aware that one in three families experience some sort of sexual abuse within the family and that siblings are the most common offender. The Adult is not in denial. It’s not overly emotional either.


The Adult pays attention to and enforces healthy boundaries. They listen to experts like Dr. Elizabeth Jeglic who say that the best way to protect a child against any sexual mistreatment is by talking about sex with children in an open and deliberate way, beginning at a young age.


The Adult understands that when sex is discussed with children early, often, and with anatomically correct terms, sexual experiences tend to happen later in life and with less negative impact.


So in order to have open conversations with your children in an easeful way, become aware of your Inner Child and Inner Critic. Spend some time journaling or talking with a trusted friend to figure out why these selves have adopted the perspective they have, and what they are trying to protect you from. Then, take a few deep breaths and assure yourself that you can handle whatever comes next, and that you’re doing the right thing. These steps allow the Adult to lead the conversation when educating children about sex and boundaries so they are prepared and safe.


Brinn Langdale, LMFT is a therapist, speaker, writer, podcast host and SSA survivor and thriver. Visit brinnlangdale.com for more insights and to access free guides about your Inner Child, Inner Critic, and Adult.


Jeglic, E. L. (2022) Talking to Your Kids About Sex. Psychology Today.


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Updated: Aug 20, 2023

Cedar Rapids, Iowa (population 136,467) is the unofficial capital of eastern Iowa. The city experiences periodic, sometimes massive floods from its namesake Cedar River. Like all Iowans, Cedar Rapids residents are familiar with the threat of tornadoes. The risk of a tornado hitting any given spot in any given year is exceedingly small. Many people live their whole lives in the central United States and never see one. But the risk that someone will be in the path of a tornado each year is almost guaranteed. So schools have drills, warning sirens get tested at noon the first Wednesday of every month, weather service and media team up to educate the public and issue tornado watches and warnings.


But before August 10, 2020, not a single resident of Cedar Rapids had heard the word “derecho” (unless they were giving legal advice in Spanish). The city was focused on the threat of Covid-19, not the weather forecast. “Chance of thunderstorms” was nothing unusual for a summer morning. No one got a cell phone alert for the storm. Sirens didn’t go off until the wall of clouds had arrived and the wind had begun. It blew continuously for 45 minutes, with gusts as powerful as a Category 4 hurricane, in an area several counties wide.


People emerged from their basements to find their neighborhood or workplace destroyed. Those who could get service called 911 and reported what they assumed was a tornado. But downed trees, power lines, and debris blocked nearly every road in the city. Residents were left to improvise, to clean up, to find food, water, shelter, medicine, and loved ones on their own.


With all power and communication towers down at once, it took hours for the rest of the world to learn that Cedar Rapids needed help. It took days to comprehend the scope of the devastation and to have it declared a disaster. Reporters and even weather service personnel struggled to describe it with the only words they knew: “an inland hurricane,” “the most destructive thunderstorm in Iowa history.” For years, residents struggled with insurance companies to cover claims for a disaster unimagined when their policies were written.


The Cedar Rapids derecho is an example of a city devastated by something so unimaginable that it had no name, and no disaster readiness plan. Sibling sexual abuse is a family disaster that is actually quite common, yet falls so far outside our societal expectations that it goes unnamed, unspoken, and unrecognized. So it hits without warning, without an infrastructure prepared to understand it or respond.


There are many reasons children do not report their sibling’s harmful sexual behavior right away, but one reason is that no one has talked about it or told them it is wrong. Likewise, even if the sibling who harmed them feared getting in trouble for what they were doing, it is possible that child did not have a clear understanding of why it was wrong.*


When children do tell a parent or other adult what is happening, too often their parents have no concept that sibling sexual abuse is a real thing. They may remember or have heard of sexual curiosity in children. So they do not comprehend the full impact of their child’s traumatizing sexual behavior on their sibling, and they fail to take the steps necessary for protection and healing. Or at the other extreme, they have heard about child sexual abuse caused by adult sex offenders or pedophiles. So they demonize the young person whose sexual behavior was tragically out of line, not realizing that, given proper treatment, support and supervision, the child has a good chance of growing into a sexually healthy and responsible adult.


Still, sometimes children do talk about what has happened, and their parents realize it is serious and look for help. They report the behavior to child abuse authorities or law enforcement, or they call a therapist or crisis center. More commonly, children do not tell anyone what they have experienced until adulthood, at which time they may seek out a therapist and talk about the abuse they endured or the behavior they displayed as a child. Too often, however, even the professionals who respond to reports of child sexual abuse have not been trained to recognize and respond appropriately to sibling sexual trauma. Legal frameworks, organizations, and resources designed to respond to adult-to-child sexual abuse, or adult-to-adult sexual violence, may be inappropriate or insufficient when both victim and offender are, or were, children living in the same home.


No one is prepared for a disaster that has no name.


Better responses to sibling sexual abuse, including researching the most effective interventions, changing laws, lobbying for funding to respond to sibling sexual trauma, will all take time. But the first steps toward all of those goals may also have the most impact:

  • Name it.

  • Talk about it.

  • Have a disaster plan.

We need to name sibling sexual trauma, and prepare for it. Not because we expect it to happen, but because we live in a world where it can happen to anyone, and it will happen to someone, so everyone should be prepared, including parents, social service workers, therapists, educators, and medical professionals.


If you are reading this blog, you might be the first in your community to speak of the reality that we call sibling sexual trauma, sibling sexual abuse, sibling incest, or harmful sexual behavior toward a sibling. One of the simplest ways to raise awareness is to share a 5WAVES contact card or flier** with the people and organizations in your life: your local schools, hospitals and doctors offices, sexual assault and child advocacy centers, mental health providers. Say something like, “I know someone who was affected by sibling sexual trauma. I had no idea how common it was until then. I want you to have this information if anyone ever needs it.”


In this simple act, you will have both named and talked about sibling sexual abuse. If nothing else, one more person has heard that it exists–the first step to recognizing it is real if they ever encounter it. And if that person keeps the card or flier, they will be prepared with a disaster response plan. If they are a professional, they will be able to direct families or clients to the immediate need-to-know information and resources to respond when sibling sexual trauma strikes. And if it hits them personally, they will know what to call it and be able to find help.



*This is true in some cases, but certainly not all. Older teens in particular may be quite aware that what they are doing is devastating to their sibling, not to mention illegal, and often use coercion or threats to keep their sibling quiet.


**These files may be shared electronically, copied, or printed in any quantity, as long as they are distributed for free and unaltered.

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