In the last month, several scientific journals have published special issues focusing on the topic of Sibling Sexual Abuse (SSA).
Despite the incredible prevalence of SSA, the topic is not well researched.
As a therapist and forensic evaluator, I’m overjoyed to see research on a topic that has long been an issue.
Looking at Sibling Sexual Abuse From a Different Angle
When SSA occurs, it affects the entire family.
This article looks at the experience of living through the disclosure and aftermath of SSA from the perspective of the parents.
What little research that is published has not yet focused on this topic.
This study, published in the Journal of Sexual Aggression, interviewed 5 parents from Sweden whose family had experienced SSA reported to authorities.
The victims in these situations were all prepubescent children. The child who caused harm was placed outside the home for a period of time in a treatment facility.
The study used an in-depth interview style called Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis to determine common themes from the experiences of the parents.
From the interviews, the authors found several themes.
Sibling Sexual Abuse: Insecurity and New Challenges
Parenting now involves insecurity and new challenges.
Parents shared that whatever their parenting style was before the disclosure, it was forever altered. Many felt as though they were now guarding infants. They struggled to figure out how to manage the needs of one child without negatively affecting the other child or children.
If they were doing something to support the child who caused harm, how was that affecting the child who was harmed?
The parents struggled to manage their own emotions. Understandably, the experience left the parents with very strong and very conflicting emotions.
Finally, the parents also struggled with the ability to obtain guidance and support from professionals.
All of these families were involved with the child welfare system based on the SSA and the families felt that the system did not provide them with enough support.
As professionals, our time is valuable. Dr. Weeks created the Mitigation Aide Research Archive because there isn’t enough focused, data-backed research available in easily digestible formats.
The Family Unit is Altered
The disclosure of SSA often caused the parental duties to be split. Therefore, parents felt like they had to choose which child they needed to protect.
The harmed child needed support and care. The child who caused harm also needed parental care and advocacy in the system.
Parents reported harmed and non-harmed siblings often felt abandoned when they went to visit the sibling who caused harm or did things to support that sibling.
Parents also shared the change in the family unit included extended family such as grandparents.
The Parent’s Relationship is Altered
Parents shared that their relationship took a back seat to everything else going on in the family. They lacked any time to work on their marriage.
They felt that their personal lives disappeared while the well-being of all of the children became the only priority.
The disclosure of the SSA in the family also had an effect on the sexuality of the parents. It made them look at sex and sexuality differently.
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The Family Adapts after Sibling Sexual Abuse
Despite the disclosure of SSA having many negative impacts on all involved, parents did share there was some positive growth:
- The family increased in closeness.
- All of the children learned to manage their emotions in a healthier manner.
- The parents worked to ensure they improved their relationship with their children so they felt they could come to their parents with questions and troubles.
- Parents need more help! Parents had to repeatedly ask professionals for assistance. Often non-abused siblings were not offered support though they were experiencing trauma from the event as well.
- Parents feel disconnected, unsafe, and helpless. However, many of them were able to turn to their partners for support and improve the quality of their relationship with their children.
- Parents lacked support from outside of the family. Parents felt as though people in their lives underestimated the emotional strain and burden they were experiencing.
For Professionals: Supporting Parents of Sibling Sexual Abuse
- There is an extensive need for support from qualified professionals in the field.
- The professionals in the field lack adequate skills and knowledge to help families.
- The professional community needs to attend to the needs of the entire family including non-harmed siblings and the extended family.
Limitations of the Study
Every study has limitations.
This study employed a very small sample size.
The authors acknowledge that the data may not be generalizable to other SSA experiences and that the experiences of the parents in this study might not reflect the experiences of most parents in this situation.
Reference: Westergren, M., Kjellgren, C., & Nygaard, K., (2023). Living through the experience of sibling sexual abuse: parents’ perspectives. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 29:3, 343-358
Have you found yourself in legal trouble due to your sexual behavior? Seek assistance before the court mandates it, with Sexual Addiction Treatment Services.
Do you feel your sexual behavior, or that of someone you love, is out of control? Then you should consult with a professional.