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Archive for the ‘Child-on-child abuse’ Category

I have had discussions with three completely unrelated people about the sibling abuse they suffered as children. I see a lot of similarities in their stories, and I want to share the generalities here. I also want to present a theory that might be healing for some readers who suffered from sibling abuse. Please note that this is a just a theory that I am offering that I hope might be healing for some of you who suffered from sibling abuse. Each situation is going to be different, but if this helps even one person, it was worth writing about.

All of these situations have the same basic dynamic in common – The survivor was the younger child who was abused in some manner by the older sibling. There were only two children in each household. The survivor is unaware of any reason for the older child to abuse her – no known history of the older sibling suffering from any abuse from the parents or anyone else. The survivor told the parents repeatedly about the abuse, but the parents denied that it was happening. No matter how severe the abuse got, the parents refused to “see” that any abuse was taking place.

Let me start with a few observations. First, most parents do not let one sibling abuse the other. While they might allow a certain amount of tussling, it is not “normal” for a parent to allow an older child to torture a younger child. If anything, “normal” parents are more likely to intervene on behalf of the younger child simply because of the age and size difference. Denying that anything is happening (and repeatedly providing so little supervision that the abuse is ongoing) is not “normal.”

Second, I know firsthand that child abusers will use the people you love to silence you. My abusers silenced me by threatening my sister’s life, and they killed my dog in front of me to prove that they were serious. I was “willing” to endure anything without complaint and without “telling” to protect my sister.

Third, the younger sibling was a baby during the older sibling’s early years. Even if the siblings are close in age (such as 18 month apart), the older sibling was likely already walking and talking while the younger sibling is still an infant. So, just because you are unaware of your sibling being abused does not mean that it did not happen.

OK – On to my theory … Consider that the older sibling was abused by an adult who had regular access to the child. The abuser silenced the child by threatening to harm or kill the child’s baby sister or brother if he or she ever told. The parents found out and “rescued” the older sibling from the abuser but decided to sweep it all under the rug and not deal with it – denying it ever happened, not getting the child therapy, etc.

From the perspective of the older sibling, who had no therapy or other way to process the abuse, perhaps the older sibling turns her anger on the baby, thinking, “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have been abused. I was hurt because of you.” Of course, this is not true, but this is the way the child processes the abuse.

So, the child takes out all of her anger toward her abuser on this younger sibling, torturing her so she can suffer in the way that the abused child has suffered. Meanwhile, the parents, who are living in denial about the older child’s abuse, choose to deny the sibling abuse because facing it means that they must face the initial abuse to the older sibling. They basically give the older sibling a “free pass” because she was abused but the younger sibling was not. Sadly, this dynamic results in both children being abused, one by an adult and the other by the sibling.

Does this sound plausible to you? I am hoping that this theory might help make sense of a family dynamic for someone who has been struggling with this.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Last week, I blogged about child-on-child abuse. It occurred to me that I have not yet covered sibling abuse directly on my blog, so I will rectify that today.

Sibling abuse is when a child abuses his or her sibling. The victim can be older, the same age (a twin), or younger, and the child abuse can be physical, sexual, and/or emotional. This form of child abuse is much more common than most people appreciate. In fact, three of my close off-line friends suffered from this form of abuse.

As with other types of child-on-child abuse, the victims of sibling abuse often feel invalidated because the abuser was a child (instead of an adult) and because the abuser was a sibling. In many cases, the parents had at least some knowledge of the abuse but dismissed it, minimized it, or flat out denied it.

I have heard many times that half of the long-term emotional damage of child abuse comes from the abuse itself, but the other half of the damage comes from the parents’ or guardians’ reactions to the abuse. If two children experience the same exact abuse, the one with a supportive family that got the child into therapy and sought justice will not experience the same amount of collateral emotional damage as experienced by the child whose parents knew and did nothing.

For sibling abuse to happen, the parents have to, at the very least, be somewhat detached from their children. If the parents are not part of the abuse, then they are clearly not supervising the children very well if one child is abusing the other. Even if the parents truly had no idea that that sibling abuse was happening, the victim is going to view the family dynamic as a conspiracy that threw him under the bus, and the victim has every reason to feel this way.

As I have shared before, it is not developmentally appropriate for young children to keep secrets. For a child to keep the parents in the dark about ongoing sibling abuse, there were, at best, dysfunctional dynamics going on in the family. Bottom line – It is a parent’s job to keep the child safe. If your sibling abused you and your parents did not intervene, then your parents failed you. Sibling abuse IS abuse, just as much as any other form of child abuse.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Yesterday, I blogged about child-on-child abuse. The focus of that blog entry was to validate the experience of anyone who was abused as a child by another child, whether that child was older, the same age, or even younger than the victim. Some of you who read that blog entry might be struggling with guilt and shame because you, as a child, harmed another child. This blog entry is to offer you hope and healing.

I have talked with adult survivors of child abuse who struggle with deep guilt and shame because they, as children, chose to harm another child. One person told me that she was trying to understand what an adult was doing to her, so she repeated the behaviors to a younger child. She deeply regretted her actions and experienced an enormous amount of guilt and shame. Because she saw herself as a child abuser, she limited her own healing work because she did not believe that she deserved to heal since she was “just as bad as” her abuser.

Please hear me: You are NOT like your abuser. I know this because you regret the choices that you made as a child, and you did not continue this behavior into adulthood. This separates you from your abuser. Your adult abuser made a choice as an adult to continue abusing children. You did not. You are not your abuser, and you deserve to heal.

When a child abuses another child and experiences regret, guilt, and shame, the child is typically trying to understand his own abuse. He is doing the wrong thing for a human reason. It is hard to wrap your mind around child abuse when you are a child (and even as an adult!), so it is understandable that a child could make a bad choice in trying to process that information. You were not a “short adult” who thought and reasoned like an adult – you were an abused child trying to make sense out of something that simply makes no sense.

Forgive yourself for being human. Rather than focus on the one time (or handful of times) you made a bad choice as a child, think about the thousands of times that you never harmed a child as an adult. You could have chosen the path of your abuser, but you did not. Children are safe around you, and you would never harm a child as an adult. Focus on who you are today, not on who you were as a wounded and confused child.

None of what I have just said lets you off the hook for atoning for harming another child. Despite the fact that you were a child, you inflicted harm on another person, and that person is wounded because of the actions you took. It is your responsibility to make amends to the extent that your victim will let you. I recommend talking with your therapist about ways that you can atone for what you have done. Some ideas I have (but would talk with your therapist about first) include…

  1. Writing a letter of apology, taking full responsibility for the harm you have inflicted
  2. Sending a copy of The Courage to Heal (for sexual abuse)
  3. Offering to pay for therapy (to the extent that you are able)

Think of what actions would be healing to you if your abuser truly regretted the abuse, and offer those actions to your victim. Be sure to respect your victim’s reaction. If she tells you not to contact her again, then respect her decision. You cannot undo what you have already done, but you can take responsibility for your actions and forgive yourself.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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On my blog entry entitled Abused Children Don’t Have the Option of Saying No, a reader posted the following comment:

To be honest, posts like this invalidate me. My sexual abuse came from a boy who was, while bigger and stronger, only a year older. A lot of people whom I come out to don’t even consider it abuse. ~ Eri

Today I am going to address the victim of child-on-child abuse. Tomorrow, I will address those of you who abused other children as a child who now experience guilt and shame. I hope to provide you with healing while, at the same time, validate the experience of the victims of child-on-child abuse.

I vehemently disagree with the people who are telling Eri that a child cannot be abused by another child. I know adoptive parents who have parented foster children with a history of sexual abuse. These children sexually abused the younger children in the home. It does happen, and it is abuse. The victim of sexual abuse (or any other form of child abuse) experiences trauma from that experience whether the abuser is age 8 or 80. The victims of child-on-child abuse need therapy and to work through the healing process just as much as those of us who were abused by adult abusers.

To quote my therapist, let’s stay out of the abuser’s head. Whether the intention of the abuser was to inflict grievous harm or to understand the abuse inflicted upon himself does not change the experience of the victim. The victim is not privy to what is going on inside of the abuser’s head during the abuse. All the victim knows is that someone he trusted is now forcing him to do something that he does not want to do, and that act of abuse is causing deep emotional pain (and likely physical pain as well).

Children, by nature, are tattletales. If the experience was “normal” consensual child play (“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”), then the child would blab about it. That is simply the way a child’s mind works. A child is not developmentally ready to keep a secret unless that secret is forced upon him. If another child (whether older or younger) forced you to keep a secret as a child after forcing you to participate in any form of abuse, that child was your abuser. Period.

Don’t let anyone else invalidate your experience. Normal child play does not result in nightmares, flashbacks, eating disorders, panic attacks, substance abuse, self-injury, and the myriad of other aftereffects that are common among child abuse survivors. Your abuser does not have to be 18 years old to qualify as a child abuser.

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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