Why did you let it happen?
In the past this question was either thought of or asked of one who survived sexual assault or sexual abuse. Perhaps the victim/survivor may have even asked themself the same question. Now it is offensive. It comes from a victim-shaming and victim-blaming mindset. Fortunately, society has come a long way. We have come to understand that in Intimate Partner Violence and child abuse cases, usually other abuses happened first, which escalated to physical violence. This pattern of behaviour is not much different when it comes to sibling sexual abuse [SSA]
Many chalk up sexual activity between siblings as normal curiosity, or harmless sexual exploration. Depending on the age [chronological and emotional], the frequency and the intent, this may be true. Yet, sibling sexual activity that goes beyond mere curiosity is more common that many realize. If one of them feels victimized, this can be traumatizing. The impact of SSA is equal to if not greater than other forms of sexual abuse. What is not usually considered is what went on between these siblings before the sexual activity.
This blog sheds light on the other abuses that may have laid the foundation.
When it comes to SSA I have not heard of cases where a sibling randomly starts touching another sibling’s private areas who are beyond the *exploring* developmental stage. Depending on the ages of the two, there are countless examples where coercion or trickery in the guise of games, experimenting, promises of toys/money/candy, etc., were used. These all duped the other sibling into complying.
Questions surface: How often were the siblings left alone? What about an older sibling’s *authority*? Was there emotional abuse like tattling, ridicule, belittling, etc, or threats of physical harm? What about physical abuse amongst the siblings? How often was there hitting, punching, pushing, slapping or even tickling? What about screaming, yelling or name-calling?
Emotional abuse and or physical abuse or threats of such can be used to lay the foundation for a sibling to submit to the sexual will of the other. One is clearly trying to dominate.
NOTE: When there is oppression and domination of any kind, this is not sibling rivalry, it is sibling abuse. Oppression is in the eyes of the beholder. It is not harmless.
Perhaps the one harmed experienced some physical pleasure of the autonomic nature, and the instigator said things like: “You enjoyed it; you could have stopped if you wanted to.” Words like these result in emotional shame and unwarranted guilt. The instigator shifts the blame away from self onto the other. So, the harmed sibling may continue to acquiesce – suffering deep emotional damage.
Perhaps the harmed sibling was told, ‘Mom or Dad won’t believe you if you tell’ or, “We’ll both get into trouble if you say anything”, adding to that, “if you tell I’ll punch your lights out”. Thus, more responsibility for the abuse is heaped onto the harmed sibling, resulting in further suffering. The pressure to remain silent is undeniable.
Almost always, there is some level of *preparation* that is used. For example, when trickery is used the targeted sibling may not feel manipulated until it’s too late. When physical or emotional abuse is used the one harmed may feel afraid and powerless to say No as shown above. These forms of grooming are designed to get the sibling to submit. Subsequently this creates complicit trauma because the harmed sibling believes they are willing participants. This results in tremendous shame. The psychological damage that ensues is unspeakable. I have listened to many SSA survivors and they share similar experiences – the sexual abuse came with physical and or emotional abuse from the same perpetrating sibling.
Truth is – SSA rarely stands alone as the only abuse the target sibling suffers. As demonstrated, SSA often comes with emotional and or physical abuse. Sibling sexual abuse is complicated, often a clustered abuse. Because of easy access, SSA can go on for months and years. There are stories of brothers who still attempt to rape sisters when both are adults, married with children. This shows that the offending sibling can view the other as an object for self-gratification. In cases like this it is all about power and control.
It is helpful to have the conversation on what’s going on where one sibling crosses the boundaries and disrespects the other.
Let’s be curious about what’s happening behind the scenes. Let’s remain open to the fact that sibling sexual abuse usually comes with emotional and/or physical abuse – a clustered abuse.
Let’s take the shame off the shoulders of the one who was harmed. They didn’t *let it happen*.
Lisa Hilton, CTRC-A, a sibling abuse survivor/thriver, is a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach who supports adult survivors of childhood trauma Transform Travesty into Triumph. She works online with local and international clients.