(The following is a blog posted on my website a while back but it gets by far the most hits on my website so I feel the need to post it again. You can find additional information on sibling sexual abuse at: https://www.verywell.com/facts-about-sibling-sexual-abuse-2610456.) I have added a few additional comments of my own at the end of the blog.
Most of my requests for help are on this subject matter. It is a tough one and happens a lot more than most people think. It is also tricky to define and understand, much less recover from. When I was about five years old, living in a small town in North Dakota, I remember several of the neighborhood kids my age along with my three siblings, one sister and two brothers, gathered behind a large bush somewhere outside of our home ground. Someone, beats me who, although with my curiosity it might even have been me, decided we should all take our pants off and show each other what we had. Everyone seemed okay with the idea so that is what we did. I remember a lot of pointing and giggling and comments like, “How come yours goes down? and “What happened to yours?” I remember thinking it was pretty funny that all the boys looked the same and all the girls looked the same, but we were definitely built differently than my brothers and the other little boys. Having satisfied our curiosity we pulled up our pants and went on to play trucks in the dirt, the standard fun game in the neighborhood, no trauma, no anxiety.
Years later, my sister who had been a year younger than me, told me that she remembered the same thing but her memory was that her brother and the other boys had gang raped her. I was stunned. I would have bet money that my memory was accurate and that hers was a conglomerate of other abuse issues she had as a child but that this definitely wasn’t one.
I also remember, as we moved from one small town to another, following the construction work of the company my father was a superintendent for, playing doctor a lot with the other children whose parents worked for the same company. I remember it as being great fun, physically satisfying, but I had a wee bit of discomfort thinking that, since most of this was done out of the eye of our parents, mostly in old junk car yards in the back or front seat of a stripped 46 Ford, we probably weren’t supposed to be doing it. I knew I didn’t want my mom to find out. At one time, we were living in Marshfield, MO and playing doctor in a field with a bunch of other kids. We were a bit concerned as there was a large house that overlooked the field and we were all worried that a mean old lady lived in the house would see what we were doing and tell our parents. We also used the same field as a camp out when we each stole matches, food, dishes, blankets and other such paraphernalia that we needed from our different homes.
One day, my mother called my sister and me in to the house and said that she had just found out what we were doing in that field and she was very angry. A stern lecture followed about being bad girls and our punishment was to go to bed without supper. I was so humiliated and upset. Then my mother completed her lecture with the words, “And if I ever find out again that you are building a fire for a camp out in that field you are going to get a spanking.” My sister and I hid our overwhelming relief and were happy to go to bed without supper. Thank God, she didn’t find out what else we were doing in that field.
I share these reminiscences with you to point out that not all sexual experiments at a young age are abuse. We may have not wanted to get caught, we may have been embarrassed, we may have experienced pleasure during it but it was not child sexual abuse. I also want to add that this in no way diminishes the pain and anguish of any brother-sister incest you may have experienced.
Brother-sister incest is a huge problem. Most of those who were victimized by this think that it was probably something that should be kept secret and that maybe it’s just a part of growing up with siblings. Remember that John Bradshaw, the guru of child sexual abuse, said that if you have any secrets in your family, you can bet it is about sex. Child sexual abuse incurs when one of the party, usually someone older, coerces the other, either physically or mentally into doing something with their private parts or to another’s private parts that they do not want to do. The key word here is “force and control”. I am going to reiterate a portion of a paragraph in my book REPAIR Your Life so that I can clarify the difference.
“Anyone in a position of power who coerces a person of lesser power into any sort of boundary violation dealing with their sexuality, either emotionally, mentally, or physically, is a sexual abuse perpetrator. This includes a grandfather who pins his granddaughter down while he fondles her breasts; a father who insists on watching his daughter, against her wishes, while she bathes; an older brother who forces his sister to do oral sex; and any other such boundary violation from the most minor to actual forcible entry and rape. It does not have to be a family member to have the same resultant despair. That despair, whether by a family member or an outsider, can be a life sentence of pain.”
If anyone still has confusion about what is brother-sister incest and what is innocent and normal childhood exploring, please email me and I’ll try to sort it out for you.
I was married to a man years ago whose sister called me a few weeks after we were married. She wanted to tell me about the years she suffered sexual abuse from the age of five till she was fifteen at the hands of her older brother. She also told me that he had been sexually abusing his teenage daughter. I was dumb struck to say the least. When I confronted him with this he denied it vehemently, a stunned look on his face. He said he couldn’t figure out why she would spread such vicious lies as he was totally innocent of the charges. She later wrote a letter depicting graphically what he had done and sent copies to his ex-wife, his brothers and his parents. He was cut out of the family for good as a result. I came to realize that it was true. He had been sexually abused by a neighbor boy when he was five. It is not unusual for someone who was sexually abused to turn into a perpetrator themselves. It is a vicious cycle that replays again and again with each new generation. By the time his sister shared this with me I knew that inappropriate behavior was going on between he and his daughter but did not know the extent. The part that confused me the most was his ability to appear genuinely innocent and especially his offer to meet with her. He said he felt so bad for her that she would imagine this happening to her. Those of you who have been married to perpetrators can identify with me regarding the ability of their perpetrator to so strongly appear totally innocent. This same man was the kind of person who could have their hand in the cookie jar and say, “what cookies?”
After years of dealing with victims, survivors and perpetrators I find brother-sister incest to be the easiest to get away with. Sometimes they share a bedroom; sometimes they take baths together; sometimes they have opportunity, motive and means. Parents are usually the last to know. It is inconceivable to them that one of their children would be guilty of such a heinous crime and even if the victim tries to talk about it, sadly many parents would dismiss it as some kind of sibling rivalry not to be taken seriously.
For those of you who are parents keep in mind that children of an untreated incest victim stand a five times greater chance of being abused themselves. If this defines you please get into a recovery program. If you have children keep a close watch on them and always take it seriously when they want to tell you about something going on that is troubling them. You are their first line of defense. Please take that seriously.