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How is Sibling Sexual Trauma Different
than other child sexual abuse?

“It’s been helpful to meet other parents whose children were sexually abused. And I totally understand why they want revenge on the abuser. But it just digs the knife of shame further into my heart. I don’t think my son is a monster but I’m afraid that’s what they would think.”  

“Even when I joined a support group for survivors of sexual assault, I didn’t feel I really belonged there. I was afraid to tell my story. But I’m glad I finally did, because they were actually very accepting.”


All types of sexual assault and abuse are hard to face. But the stigma and silence around sibling sexual trauma is tremendous. If it is talked about at all, it is in off-color insults and jokes. People whose lives have been touched by it are everywhere, but invisible. Family members know that sharing their struggle publicly will bring stigma on the whole family; one person telling their story would “out” the others. Most children hide what is happening even from their parents, for fear of punishment or of destroying their family. Countless children and families suffer in silence, in a silent epidemic.  


Sibling sexual trauma exists at the intersection of intrafamilial sexual abuse and child on child sexual abuse, two areas that are poorly understood and underrepresented in themselves.  




Despite current estimates that half of all childhood sexual harm is caused by other children or teens, resources for child sexual abuse and incest usually assume that an adult caused the harm. Other resources are directed at sexual assault that happened when the survivor was an adult or at least a teen. This can leave those who are searching for help instead feeling even more unseen and isolated. Material that doesn’t apply to the unique circumstances surrounding sibling sexual trauma can be triggering or misleading.  

Here are some ways that sexual trauma inflicted by a sibling tends to be different--keeping in mind that every situation is unique.








Child Sexual Abuse by an Adult

  • Caused by adults who are expected to understand and be held legally responsible for their actions  

  • Most abusers plan ahead and groom their victims (usually more than one)

  • Abuser is likely to be legally savvy 

  • Abuser tends to be entrenched in their denial and skilled at manipulation

  • Adult abusers are very likely to harm children again in the future

  • Survivors and their families tend to focus their anger on the perpetrator, especially if the abuser was outside the family. 

  • Authorities expect abusers to avoid further contact with the child they abused. 

Sibling-Caused Sexual Trauma

  • Usually caused by a child or teen who is too young to fully understand consent and consequences

  • Usually caused more by opportunity and impulsivity

  • Often more severe, frequent, and long-lasting abuse, because siblings spend so much time in the same home

  • Children and teens who have behaved in a way that caused sexual trauma are unlikely to continue harmful behavior into adulthood 

  • Youth who are responsible are more likely to feel remorse than adult offenders

  • Many families hesitate to prosecute a sibling or child

  • Dealing with the needs of and consequences for the offender can significantly affect the survivor 

  • Families tend to feel ambivalence toward the child who was responsible

  • Survivors and those who violated them are more likely to continue living in the same house

  • Parents are responsible for the welfare of both the child who was harmed and the child who caused the trauma

  • If the children are still minors, mandatory reporting applies. 


Image courtesy of Cari Gregersen

DBA Whiskey Grace Designs

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