What is Sibling Abuse?

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  • Written By: M. Lupica
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 10 March 2020
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Sibling abuse is a particular form of domestic abuse that occurs between siblings. The abuse is most typically exemplified by physical abuse, but may also be mental or emotional. These abusive relationships are usually between one older, bigger, and stronger sibling and a younger more vulnerable victim. The term “sibling abuse” generally refers to abuse between children, but some situations that involve abusive acts by an adult sibling may also be categorized in the same manner. The responsibility for sibling abuse between children is usually traced back to the parents, generally for a lack of effective oversight of their children.

Domestic abuse is typically defined as physical abuse, placing another in fear of serious physical harm, or causing the same to engage in sexual relations through coercion by a member of the same household. Sibling abuse is a particular type of domestic abuse that stems from very particular circumstances. A parent may misinterpret abuse simply as “roughhousing” or playful activities since he or she likely expects that type of behavior from his or her children. Additionally, parents generally have a bias toward their children that would prevent them from seeing such roughhousing as mean spirited sibling abuse. These factors make sibling abuse a particularly pervasive problem.


Parents can differentiate the typical sibling rivalries from serious sibling abuse by looking for signs that typify the behavior. If one child constantly avoids his or her sibling and expresses serious concern as to the actions of the aggressor sibling, then he or she may be a victim of sibling abuse. In the event that one sibling is abusing the other sexually, the victim child may act out in an inappropriately sexual manner.

Certain environmental factors may cultivate an abusive sibling relationship. For example, parents who play favorites with their children or often make comparisons between them may be a factor in leading to an abusive relationship between the siblings. Additionally, if children are exposed to violence by their parents, then they are more likely to act out in a violent manner to those who are closest to them.

While the above factors are important, there is really only one practical and effective way to prevent sibling abuse, and that is proper oversight by the parents. When children act out violently in any manner — be it toward each other or otherwise — such behavior should be strongly discouraged by the parents. Of course there is no sure-fire method to make children act in accordance to parents’ wishes, but effective parenting always reduces the risk.


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