Society’s awareness of sibling incest and assault, and its response, has lagged behind other child abuse issues and concerns. In comparison with parent–child abuse, inter-sibling abuse is generally underreported by parents, teachers, mental health professionals, and the community. Child Protective Services and the legal system are reluctant to accept and respond to sibling abuse reports that are filed (Caffaro & Caffaro, 2005). Research studies on sibling incest are lacking which may be due to parents who discover their children engaging in sexual acts are usually not inclined to call child protective services. Also sibling incest has a myth surrounding in that label it benign with no side effects Mitchell, 1995, p.75).
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Incest may be defined as sexual relations between close blood relatives, e.g., between a child and the father or uncle, between siblings; or in its broader sense, between a child and a stepparent or stepsibling. Incest is a taboo in all countries. Legally, incest and sexual aggression toward minors are classified as a criminal behavior. It has psychological, social, medical, and legal ramifications. Recently, it was reported that being the victim of paternal incest during childhood might be a significant predictor of a borderline personality disorder and complex posttraumatic stress in adults. Although father–daughter incest is the most common, incest can also involve other family members, especially brothers and sisters. The incest victim of a father and/or brother relationship may manifest more severe distress, than the victim of a stepfather (Celbis et al, 2006).
There can a number of reasons for sibling abuse occurring. Firstly, parents may give responsibility to older sibling to take care of younger children, who in fact is not mature enough emotionally to act as a surrogate parent. Secondly, parents may be caught up with their own busy lifestyle to effectively parenting their children. Thirdly, even after knowing about the abuse, they fail to check it due to ineffective parenting (Mitchell, 1995, p.75).
There are fewer signs and symptoms of sibling incest than parental incest due to the fact that sibling incest is less disruptive to the functioning of the family and hence less likely to be discovered. Fewer signs and symptoms of traumatization could facilitate maintaining the secret (Schetky & Green, 1988, p.130). Long term psychological symptoms of incest include depression, anxiety, psychiatric disorder, drug and alcohol use, borderline personality disorder, somitization disorder and eroticization. However, the severity of the symptoms depends on a number of factors such as frequency and duration, relation to perpetrator, use of violence oe force, type of abuse, age of victim, age difference between the perpetrator and victim, and parental support variable (Schetky, 1990, p.32).
Smith and Israel (1987) studied 25 cases of sibling incest. They have found three factors specific to the families in which sibling incest occurred. Parents were distant and unavailable, both emotionally and physically. 88% of the fathers and 75% of the mothers fit this category. Secondly, home environment was sexually stimulating. Forty eight per cent of the sibling perpetrators witnessed some form of sexual contact between parents or a parent or someone else. Fifty two percent of the sibling perpetrators had been sexually abused and 32% of sibling perpetrators had the same female member of the family that had been victimized by the father. Over three quarter of the parents were engaged in extramarital affairs (Smith & Israel, 1987).
The incestuous relation can ruin the victims’ lives in many aspects. Daughters who have been sexually abused reported lower levels of self-esteem about their intellectual and school status, resulting in lower academic achievement at school, marital problems and also job failure (Dadds et al, 1991). Relationship difficulties, developmental effects limiting the sibling’s ability to form meaningful relationships within his or her peer group, and dysfunctional family dynamics are also evident with survivors of sibling incest. Although the effect of sibling incest is thought to be insignificant compared to father-daughter incest, the damage can still be considerable. When coercion, threats, or other forms of abuse of power have taken place, the damage can be considerable (Hagood, 2000, p.151).
The traumatic impact of sibling incest will depend on a series of factors including the type of molestation, frequency, duration, and extent of the sexual contact, the degree of coercion and physical force applied, the discrepancy of age between the siblings, and the nature of the sibling relationship. Long term sibling incest involving coercion and physical threats with a significance difference in age between the perpetrator and the victim is likely to be more damaging than a mutually consensual exploratory sexual contact between siblings close in age (Schetky & Green, p.131).
The unique circumstances of sibling abuse treatment frequently require a modification of traditional systemic approaches. In treating victims or perpetrators of sibling violence, safety and accountability are front and center issues for the clinician. According to Larson and Maddock (1986) that family treatment is not always possible or acceptable. Family-based therapy may be one aspect of a multidimensional approach to treatment that includes inpidual, group, and family intervention. The patient's readiness is a prime criterion for determining the wisdom of family involvement. Treatment considerations must take into account the developmental stage and readiness of the incest survivor and treatment must be coordinated with the needs and capacities of the client. There is a clear danger inherent in rigid approaches, which expect all families to fit the same theories of causation and methods of treatment.
Differing cultural expectations influence the developmental course of relationships between parents and children, as well as between siblings. The ability to recognize these differences is important when assessing and intervening in sibling incest and assault dyads. And because abuse trauma is likely to involve multiple areas of functioning, sibling assessment must be an ongoing part of treatment rather than a static process that precedes therapy (Caffero & Caffero, 1998).
Treatment for sibling incest and assault requires multidisciplinary cooperation and usually, the coordination of services among several provider systems. Like child abuse treatment in general, it is complex and challenging work that requires ongoing specialized training and ability. Systematic and cross cultural studies are also called for to fill the lacuna in research.
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