Sibling abuse statistics

I wrote a post about sibling abuse in early March 2006, just over a year ago. It was precipitated by a New York Times article on the same topic and assisted by the fact that I had written a paper about sibling abuse when I was a senior in college. The paper was for a Women's Studies class called "Women, Violence, and the Law," and it was one of the best that I wrote in college.

Since last March, it seems like not a week has gone by that someone hasn't reached by blog by Googling "sibling abuse" (currently the 28th hit), "sibling abuse statistics" (currently the 5th hit) or "sibling abuse blog" (currently the 3rd hit). This regularity indicates that interest in this topic is likely to continue, so I wanted to offer something real to people who come here looking for information. I feel like it's a waste to have done all this research and then not share it with people other than my professor. (Note: I think I wanted to be her at one time. She was a great teacher and a cool person on many different levels.)

I've been tempted to share my whole paper here, but part of me doesn't want to because I think I had some original ideas that I might actually want to use for something someday. What, I'm not sure, but something besides this blog. To compromise, I'm sharing some of the research and statistics that I uncovered, but none of my creative thought.

This is essentially the first half of the paper.

Children and Violence
  • In 1998, 20.5% of all violent crimes were committed against children under the age of 18.1
  • From 1976 through 2000, more nonfatal acts of violence were committed against minors than any other age group.2
  • Approximately fifteen percent of all violent crime is committed by children.3
Children and Sexual Assault
  • Two-thirds of the victims of sexual assault reported to law enforcement agencies from 1991 through 1996 were under the age of eighteen; of those, more than half were under the age of twelve.
  • Fourteen percent of all victims of sexual assault reported to the authorities were under the age of six.4
Sibling Abuse: Definitions
  • Only one book had been written about sibling abuse before 2002.5
  • "Sibling abuse is defined as a narrowly as a situation in which one sibling hits, bites, or physically tortures a sibling6 or as broadly as hitting, biting, slapping, shoving and punching; tickling to excess;…injurious or life-threatening behavior such as choking or being shot with a BB gun…teasing, name-calling, belittling, ridiculing, intimidating, annoying, and provoking. Children also destroy personal possessions or torture and kill pets to get an emotional response from their victim….unwanted touching, indecent exposure, attempted penetration, intercourse, rape, or sodomy between siblings."7
Sibling Abuse: Prevalence
  • According to one 1994 document, 3% of children are "dangerously violent" towards a sibling. This excludes "slaps, pushes, kicks, bites, and punches" which are much more prevalent. When these lesser forms of violence are included, "more than 36 million individual acts of sibling aggression [occur] each year." The author concluded that "it appears that sibling abuse is the most common and the most overlooked form of family violence."8
  • The percentage of siblings who abuse each other varies depending on the study, but all agree that it is quite common. According to a project of the Iowa State University Extension, "As many as 53 of every 100 children abuse a brother or sister."9
  • According to other studies, 80% of children have hit a brother or sister, and more than 50% have engaged in extremely violent behavior against siblings.10
  • A survey of twelve-year-old students found that of those who had siblings living at home, 10% were beaten up by their siblings and 4% said that siblings had either threatened them with, actually used, a gun or knife against them.11
  • Two-thirds of American children between the ages of fifteen and seventeen "assault a sibling at least once during a year, and in over a third of these cases, the assault involved an act with a relatively high probability of causing injury (kicking, punching, biting, choking, or attacking with a knife or gun)."12
  • A news release from the American Psychological Association notes that 65% of participants in one study reported having experienced "very severe physical abuse, such as being kicked, bitten, hit with a fist or choked at the hands of their siblings." Seventeen percent of respondents had been injured by a sibling, four percent seriously enough to have seen a physician as a result. Despite this, only twenty one percent of respondents felt that they had been physically abused by a sibling, although thirty two percent reported having been emotionally abused as a child.13
  • Some might say that such behavior is so common that it is not to be considered violent at all.14 Perhaps one reason that more people report having suffered emotional abuse rather than physical abuse is because siblings tussling on the floor, or a brother chasing his sister around the house, are common images that we all accept as part of our childhoods.
  • When violent sibling rivalry becomes incestuous or homicidal, few would still characterize that behavior as normal. In addition to the studies cited above, studies have established that sibling incest is more prevalent than parent-child incest or than any other kind of child sexual abuse.15
  • An even scarier statistic is that 10% of all murders in families occur between siblings, and that 1.5% of all murder victims are murdered by their siblings.16
  • Even in the case of sibling incest, which might seem more obviously abnormal, "there are no universally accepted criteria that distinguish abusive sexual contact from normal sexual exploration among children."17
Sibling Abuse: Indicators and Risk Factors
  • Specific indicators of sibling abuse that differentiate it from normal sibling rivalry
    • the age difference between children
    • the frequency and duration of the abuse
    • power dynamics in the family generally and between specific siblings
    • physical size difference between siblings
    • the same child always perpetrating the abuse or being abused
    • coercive techniques employed by the abusive child.18
  • Fairly well-established risk factors for sibling abuse:19
    • Many people feel that emotional and physical inaccessibility of parents is a serious risk factor. Such parents are not affectionate with their children, are uninvolved in their children's day-to-day lives, and do not interfere when violence erupts.20
    • Some suggest that either parental over-involvement or parental neglect can be risk factors.21
    • Some feel that poor parenting leading to emotional dysfunction and "children's competition for a limited amount of parental attention and finite family resources" are the main causes of high levels of sibling aggression, leading to sibling abuse.22
    • Others blame parents who increase the competition between their children by "playing favorites," labeling, comparing, or excluding certain children.23
    • Other risk factors include families that tend to be secretive and socially isolated, that do not "encourage open communication either inside the family or with persons outside the family" and "family communications that include a double message toward sexuality."24
  • Boys perpetrate sibling abuse more often than girls. According to two separate studies, "[b]oys display more assaultive behavior towards siblings than girls"25 and "families with sons only consistently have more sibling violence than families with daughters only."26
  • One study reported that "[g]irls were more likely than boys to be abused by siblings, especially girls with older brothers."27
  • Data indicates that "sibling violence is initiated primarily by brothers," although "the support [for this] is not as overwhelming as one might expect….At all ages girls were less violent than boys, but the difference was relatively small."28
Sibling Abuse: Long-term Effects
  • All evidence discounts the idea that sibling abuse is innocuous and that children "bounce back" from such abuse. There are many serious long-term effects of sibling abuse to the abused sibling. They include low self-esteem, repeat victimization at the hands of another abuser (often an intimate partner), major depression, sexual dysfunction, and the inability to become intimate with or trust people later in life.29
  • Some victims of child abuse have flashbacks for years afterwards, or exhibit other symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In addition, "alcohol, drug, and eating disorders…have been linked to sibling abuse in childhood."30

The one editorial comment from the paper that I will include is this:
Many of the reasons given for the lack of action in stopping sibling abuse are eerily similar to the excuses that used to be made, and sometimes continue to be made, about the impossibility of stopping spousal abuse. One of the more horrifying ones is the idea that it is "normal" or "okay" for a sibling (or husband) to physically or emotionally abuse another (or wife). Many parents feel that violent relationships between siblings are normal regardless of the patterns that may recur or the suffering of one child at the hands of another. Many parents feel that it is a mistake to intervene and that getting beaten up is, so to speak, just a part of growing up.
Clearly, I do not share these beliefs.

The rest of my paper dealt with some legal issues surrounding sibling abuse, and possible legal approaches towards stopping this horror. It was really interesting. Writing it made me buy some PSAT books and even take a practice test or two. It didn't make me apply to law school, though.

I have an extensive bibliography, too, which I will post separately. The bibliography will help you understand the footnotes, below. Also, I'm sure that more up-to-date research exists, but since I am no longer in school, I don't have the luxury of pursuing it. Also, I apologize for some of the wacky citations. Since I am no longer in school, I no longer have to worry about proper form, so some of the citations are APA style and some aren't. Also, I cut and pasted a bunch to pull this out of a long paper, and in some cases, added Internet-based sources for things that I may have found elsewhere, so it's a bit of a hodge-podge. I think it's all there, though, and all of the footnotes should, please God, work.

I also have to apologize for some of the shoddiness of the academic work. I wrote this paper while I was writing my senior thesis, and so this background part, presented here, got especially short shrift. It looks like I did a lot of citing secondary sources that cite primary sources, rather than going straight to the primary source. I am fully aware that this is never a good way to go.

Note that a lot of these links are PDFs, so don't click unless you want to start downloading a PDF.

1. Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Incidents of Family Violence: A Special Study." 1998, http://www.fbi.gov/filelink.html?file=/ucr/Cius_98/98crime/98cius29.pdf.
2. U.S. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Bureau of Justice Statistics. "Age Patterns in Violent Victimization, 1976-2000." Crime Data Brief. February 2002. NCJ 190104, http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/apvv00.pdf
3. Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Incidents of Family Violence: A Special Study." Uniform Crime Reports. 1998, http://www.fbi.gov/filelink.html?file=/ucr/Cius_98/98crime/98cius29.pdf. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reports 174 (1987), cited in Humm, S. Randall. "Symposium: The Critique of Normativity: Comment: Criminalizing Poor Parenting Skills as a Means to Contain Violence by and Against Children." University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 139(4), 1123-1161. April 1991.
5. Wiehe, Vernon R. Sibling abuse: hidden physical, emotional, and sexual trauma. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, c1997.
Ferrer, Millie and Sara McCrea. "Sibling Rivalry." Document FCS 2132, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, June 1999. The 1999 version is no longer available online, because it was reviewed and updated in June 2002, after I wrote this paper. See the 2002 version at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/HE/HE11000.pdf.
7. Iowa State University, "Understanding Abuse: Sibling Abuse," University Extension: Ames, Iowa, Reprinted October 1994, http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM1478X8.pdf.
9. Iowa State University, "Understanding Abuse: Sibling Abuse," University Extension: Ames, Iowa, Reprinted October 1994, http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM1478X8.pdf.
10. Frazier, summarizing the findings reported in Strauss, Murray A. and Richard J. Gelles, eds. Family Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8, 145 Families. New Brunswick, NY: Transaction Publishers, 1990.
11. Frazier, summarizing findings originally reported by Arthur S. Green, "Child Abuse by Siblings." Child Abuse and Neglect. 1984. 8: 311-317.
12. Frazier, summarizing the findings reported in Strauss, Murray A. and Richard J. Gelles, eds. Family Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8, 145 Families. New Brunswick, NY: Transaction Publishers, 1990.
13. American Psychological Association. "Childhood Sibling Abuse Common, but Most Adults Don't Remember It That Way, Study Finds." August 8, 1997. [I think that this was originally on the APA website, but now all I could find was this copy of the press release on a blog: http://www.scienceblog.com/community/older/1997/A/199700116.html I don't think blogs existed in 2002. They certainly didn't exist in 1997.]
14. Richard J. Gelles. Intimate Violence in Families. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. 1997. 97.
15. Finkelhor, 1979; Goldman & Goldman, 1979, Wiehe, 1990 as cited in Rayment, Susan and Nicole Owen. "Working With Individuals and Families Where Sibling Incest has Occurred: The Dynamics, Dilemmas and Practice Implications." [a paper presented at the Children and Crime: Victims and Offenders Conference convened by the Australian Institute of Criminology, Brisbane, June 17-18 1999, http://www.aic.gov.au/conferences/children/owen.pdf.]
16. Dawson, John M. and Patrick A. Langan. "Murder in Families." Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics (1994), as cited in Gelles, 97.
17. Rayment, 2.
18. See Rayment, 4 and Frazier.
19. For a fuller discussion of risk factors for family violence, see Strauss, Murray A. and Richard J. Gelles, eds. Family Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8, 145 Families. New Brunswick, NY: Transaction Publishers, 1990 as cited in Frazier.
20. University of Michigan Medical School, "Sibling Abuse." Your Child: Development and Behavior Resources: A Guide to Information and Support for Parents, http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/yourchild/sibabuse.htm.
21. Stephen Bank as quoted by Mary Jo Kochakian, "How to Spot and Deal with Sibling Abuse." Palm Beach Post. October 22, 1992, Section: Accent, pg. 3D. Cited by Frazier.
22. Rayment, 8 and Frazier, summarizing McHale, S.M. and W.C. Gamble. "The Role of Siblings and Peers." In Special Children-Special Risks. Eds. J. Garbarino, P.E. Brookhouser, and K.J. Authier. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter, 1987.
23. University of Michigan Medical School, "Sibling Abuse." Your Child: Development and Behavior Resources: A Guide to Information and Support for Parents, http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/yourchild/sibabuse.htm.
24. Frazier, citing Asherman, Lee I. And Ellen J. Safier. "Sibling Incest: A Consquence of Individual and Family Dysfunction." Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic. Summer 1990. 54(3). 311-322. Also see Netzer Daie, Eliezer Witztum, and Michael Eleff. "Long-Term Effects of Sibling Incest." Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Novem ber 1989. 50 (11). 428-431.
25. Frazier, Introduction, citing Gelles, R. and M. Strauss. (1988). Intimate Violence: The Causes and Consequences of Abuse in the American Family. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.
26. Frazier, citing T. Randall, "Adolescents May Experience Home, School Abuse; Their Future Draws Researchers' Concern." Journal of the American Medical Association. June 1992. 2678 (23). 3127-3128, 3131
27. Mary Jo Kochakian, "How to Spot and Deal with Sibling Abuse." Palm Beach Post. October 22, 1992, Section: Accent, pg. 3D. Cited by Frazier.
28. Gelles, 101-102


Gary said...

Good work! An excellent summary of the available information.

Anonymous said...

Make this public. To many parents look the other way.
My mother let my younger sister get away with every thing. It only stopped when my dad finally figured out the physical abuse was happening.
A lot of abuse occurs when in the presence of one of the parents and not the other. Th manipulative parent makes sure the other parent is not present.

Mark Beaumier said...

I too, have been evolved in sidbling abuse and was a victim of it , even up to adulthood when I was hit, slap and literary torture by my molder brother who to this day gets away with it. HIs excessive behaivor and his frightening use of force has effected most of my life. I currently writing a journal on the subject and trying to help myself throught it. As a father I look very carefully at my three daughters in hope this type of behavior never shows in them. What is even more frightening is he still lives with my mother and he is 57 years old. Sure love talk to someone who has had simular experences.

Mark Beaumier

Anonymous said...

My big brother pinched my noise and covered my mouth when the brought me home from the hospita after I was born, to try and make me stop crying. They say I had fingernail marks on both sides of my nose. Every day until he left when I was 16 was torturous. And yes, I went straight into an abusive relationship with a man. Now I am 60.. I realize what happened to me. I want my life back!!

Anon Z said...

I was physically/emotionally abused by my older (10 years) brother as a tiny child. He was to me, a giant, and frequently acted upon his impulses to smother, restrain, and even choke me.

As an adult, he and his son were diagnosed with an impulse disorder. He has since learned to assault and threaten others with his advanced study of martial arts.

I still seem to be first on his list of victims, as I often cannot attend family functions without being forced backward across a room, yard, or hallway with the threat of his flying hands and feet.

Around five years ago, the man went into one of his violent 'stances' at his first sight of my (then) girlfriend. She was frightened and confused by his behavior, and I have subsequently let loose with a flood of heretofore unrecognized anger and fear of my brother.

This has been utterly devastating for me.

I no longer have contact with him, but my depression and angst have become unmanageable to the point of total disability.

Can I completely blame him for my present state? I can never be sure, but this does at least illustrate the potential long-term effects of sibling abuse.

Is there a web site dedicated to this problem?

Abacaxi Mamao said...

Thank you for all of your comments. I'm sorry that I never responded sooner. I don't know if there is a web site dedicated to this problem or not. If anyone knows, please post it!

La Famille Beaumier said...

I certainly understand your problem, anytime I have dealings with my brother I find my level of aniety goes up. Now that both my parents are gone. I am really free of him as long as her stays in California and me in Arizona. Take care of yourself!