Here we have a research summary of a study conducted in the United Kingdom. It was a qualitative study that used thematic analysis to reflect the data of 17 interviewed survivors of sibling sexual abuse.
This means that they studied the content of the interviews and determined dominant themes from all subjects’ interviews.
This research summary continues our theme of current research on sibling sexual abuse (SSA). As I stated in my previous blog, several scientific journals have devoted a good deal of space to sibling Sexual Abuse (SSA) in the past month is both necessary and long overdue.
The study uncovered 10 predominant themes from the interviews.
Abuse and dysfunction were central components of the broad family system
The subjects reported that there was often abuse In the family between other family members outside of the SSA.
This meant, for example, that their parents were perhaps victims of sexual abuse or other family members were as well.
The subjects also identified that they came from families that held misogynistic views that included sexism and treating male and female children differently based on their gender. Therefore, these family beliefs laid the groundwork for the sibling sexual abuse to occur.
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Abuse and dysfunction were common in the nuclear family
The victims of SSA reported that there was often abuse in the nuclear family.
Furthermore, their parents often had dysfunctional relationships that included emotional, psychological, or physical abuse.
Dual status of the sibling that harmed
The sibling that perpetrated the sexual abuse was often also the victim of sexual abuse themselves. There was often a culture of acceptance of this abuse in the family.
Conflicted feelings toward the sibling that harmed
The victims of SSA often held conflicting feelings toward the sibling who harmed them.
On the one hand, they had sympathy for their sibling who was often the victim of sexual abuse themselves.
On the other hand, they often felt as though they could not forgive their sibling for hurting them.
Poor parental engagement and communication
Subjects reported that their parents were often absent or disengaged. This absence came in many forms.
For example, it could have been anything from the death of a parent to work outside the home or parental divorce.
The victims often felt as though there was parental disengagement even if both parents were in the home. This parental disengagement provided a situation where the abusive sibling often had power and control as they were often older and put in a position of authority due to the parental absence.
The parental disengagement also meant that the victims did not feel as though they could go to their parents for support.
Parents had poor and inconsistently enforced boundaries
Parents often had poor boundaries around sex, sexuality, and pornography. This normalized sexual behavior and the daughters often felt more sexualized while the sons were not challenged for overtly sexual behavior.
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Denial of Abuse
When the victims in this study did disclose the sibling sexual abuse to their parents, their parents often did not believe them or did not want to talk about the issue.
Furthermore, parents often were unwilling or unable to acknowledge what was happening in the family.
Normalization of dysfunction and acceptance of abuse
Because of the dysfunction in the family as well as the larger family circle, the victims often felt that how the family acted was normal and acceptable. Therefore, they did not know any other way that a family could be.
Clarity was found from gaining distance from the family
The victims often did not realize that their family was dysfunctional until they removed themselves from the family system. Once outside of the system, they came to realize that both the family dysfunction and the abuse were not normal and were not ok.
Not all families that experience SSA are the same
The authors are keen to point out that not all of the families of the victims interviewed in this study were the same and they are not all dysfunctional.
Based on the data, the authors that that treating instances of SSA should not be done on an individual basis. The entire family needs to play a role in treatment as often the beliefs that need to be identified and challenged are held by the family system as well. A whole family approach to treatment is required.
Reference: McCarten, K., King-Hill, S. & Gilsenan, A. (2023). Sibling sexual abuse: a form of family dysfunction as opposed to individualised behavior. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 29:3, 427-439
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Are you looking for more reputable data-backed information on sexual addiction? The Mitigation Aide Research Archive is an excellent source for executive summaries of research studies.