Academic journal article Child Welfare

Sibling Incest: Treatment of the Family and the Offender

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Sibling Incest: Treatment of the Family and the Offender

Article excerpt

This article examines the systemic underpinnings of sibling incest and its relationship to the internal and external factors of offending behavior. Treatment of offenders in the context of their families underscores poor boundaries, the impact on the victim, and the necessity of hierarchical reconstruction. The formulation of a safety plan to prevent future offenses is key throughout the treatment process. Reintegration into the family and community concludes the article.

The subject of sibling incest has received minimal clinical attention and is underrepresented in the literature. Although sibling incest is not well documented, it is considered to be a common form of familial incest [De Jong 1989; Ascherman & Safier 1990]. In his study of college students, Finkelhor [1980] found cases of sibling incest in 13% of the population. Bess and Janssen [1982] found that 60% of the psychiatric outpatients in their study reported sibling incest.

Early research questioned the impact of sexual abuse between siblings and reported that the experience may be positive [Finkelhor 1980]. Other authors debated this finding and believed this type of contact has long-term effects such as difficulty with intimacy, self-esteem, and trust. Cole [1982] contends that sibling incest is not benign, even when the age difference is small and when one or both of the participants report the experience as positive. She distinguishes between coercive abuse and natural curiosity and exploration. In sibling incest, the victims often see the abuse as their fault and "suffer tremendous amounts of guilt." Daie et al. [1989] state that an older sibling's abuse of power over a younger sibling in incestuous relationships results in long-term effects in the younger sibling, including "difficulty in establishing and maintaining close relationships, especially sexual ones." These authors also distinguish between benign exploration and abusive incest. Courtois [1982] notes in her work with survivors of sexual abuse that the secrecy that surrounds sibling incest adds to the trauma.

The pairing of the taboo of sibling incest and the victim's first sexual experience leads to confusion regarding sexuality later in life. Children perceive sexual abuse differently throughout their development. Very young children may not know the activity to be wrong, but are often confused by the activity and may begin to incorporate the activity into their repertoire. Young children may engage in self-stimulating behavior such as masturbation. They do, however, understand coercive threats and physical abuse and are easily manipulated [Daie et al. 1989]. From ages 6 to 13, children begin to conceptualize the abusive act as wrong, and feelings of guilt, "dirtiness," and worthlessness can develop. These children are old enough to know the taboo of incest between siblings and shameful emotions begin to emerge. Teenagers experience feelings similar to those noted above but may have sexual feelings associated with the abuse that lead to further confusion and related symptomatology such as frigidity or promiscuity [Philadelphia Child Guidance 1993].

Family dynamics precipitate the offender's acting out against a sibling. While the offender's own internal factors lead to acting abusively, the choice of a family member to abuse occurs in the context of the family system. The abuse may be connected to the offender's perception of his or her own status in the family. The offender may have a privileged position with a parent, or may not have learned limits from a neglectful parent. New relationships in families brought about by remarriage can result in the perpetrator losing status in the family and acting out against a younger sibling. Smith and Israel [1987] found in their study that both physical and emotional absences on the part of parental figures significantly intensified the mutual dependency and sexual acting-out between siblings. Ascherman & Safier [1990] found that an offender's own experience of being physically abused was a factor in sibling abuse. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.