What to Do About Sibling Sexual Abuse

Siblings – courtesy of Camille via Flickr (Image source) - See more at: http://boz.religionnews.com/2015/06/12/responding-to-sibling-sexual-abuse-what-to-do-and-why/#sthash.HLIHiyCw.dpuf
Siblings – courtesy of Camille via Flickr (Image source)

The mishandling of sibling sexual abuse disclosures in the Duggar family has brought to the surface a painful topic that most of us would prefer to pretend doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, that is not an option. Juveniles’ account for more than one-third of those known to police to have committed sexual offenses against minors. Many of these young offenders are victimizing their own siblings. One study found that juveniles who sexually abuse siblings do so at a rate of approximately five times the rate of parent-child sexual abuse. Because this horror is almost too much to comprehend, most adults have not stopped to consider what to do if it is discovered that one of their children is sexually abusing another child.

I have received many emails in the past weeks from parents and other adults asking this very question. Here are some of the first basic steps parents should take after being confronted with the almost unbearable horror that your child has sexually victimized one of your other children:

Report the crime. The sexual abuse of a minor is a criminal offense in all 50 states regardless of the age of the offender or the location of the offense. Though each state may have slightly different definitions of sexual abuse perpetrated by a minor, such abuse will usually be defined as something like, any contact or activity of a sexual nature that occurs between children, with or without the consent of either child, when one child has power or perceived authority over the other child. Please know that it is no less of a crime if the offending child is a sibling. If a parent has any question as to whether the actions of their child constitute sexual abuse, they should immediately contact law enforcement. Lastly, it is important to note that the crime has not been reported if a parent merely discusses the matter with a personal friend who is a law enforcement officer.

Here are just a few of the many reasons why it is critical to report the crime to the authorities.

  1. It’s a crime. Let’s make sure we all understand that child sexual abuse is not just a “sin” or a “mistake”, it is a serious crime. In most states, failure to report this crime is itself a crime. For a more substantive discussion on reporting sexual abuse offenses, see my prior blog post.
  2. Reporting the abuse says to the victimized child that they are believed and cherished. It also communicates that mom and dad are their greatest advocates who love them even to the point of making the difficult decision to turn in another dearly loved child to the authorities. This unconditional love and support by parents is so needed in the life of a confused and traumatized child. Reporting the abuse will also open the doors to many very helpful resources made available to victims through the criminal justice system.
  3. Reporting the abuse communicates the gravity of the offense to the juvenile offender. Very few offending juveniles will be able to ignore the severity of a an offense that prompts their parents to formally report them to the police. Parents who decide not to report the offense send a very dangerous message to the juvenile offender. A message that says, “What you did was bad, but not that bad.” Unlike what some parents may think, the failure to report is not a demonstration of love to the offending child (or to the victim for that matter). It is a demonstration of fear that all too often is the catalyst for continuing abuse.

Separate the siblings. When a parent discovers that a child has allegedly sexually abused another child who is living in the home, it is critical that the offending child be immediately removed. Not only does this guarantee the safety of the victimized child, but it also protects any other vulnerable child living in the home. Due to the complex dynamics of sibling abuse, a child victim may initially be confused or even feel guilty about the removal of the perpetrator from the home. Parents will have to help the victimized child understand the need to remove the offending child and to make sure that the child isn’t blaming himself/herself. In some circumstances, the temptation may be to remove the non-offending child from the home due to challenges of finding a temporary placement for the offending child. Doing so can have devastating impacts upon the victim who will in essence be the one being punished for reporting the abuse. Between family, friends, church, and government resources, a temporary placement for an offending child can usually be found in a short period of time.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Boz Tchividjian