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Preventing sibling sexual abuse: what does research tell us?

20 January 2021

“We hope this report will bring this subject out of the shadows and contribute to protecting children from harm home at a time when it is needed more than ever."

The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse (CSA Centre) has published a new paper on sibling sexual abuse, co-authored by Stuart Allardyce, director of Stop It Now! Scotland, and Dr Peter Yates, lecturer and programme lead in social work at Edinburgh Napier University.

Recognising the problem of sibling sexual abuse

Sexual abuse involving child siblings is thought to be the most common form of child sexual abuse within families, perhaps up to three times as common as sexual abuse of a child by a parent.

The paper aims to help professionals think through the issues and challenges raised by sibling sexual abuse and covers:

  • sexual behaviour between siblings
  • the scale and nature of sibling sexual abuse
  • the impact of sibling sexual abuse
  • professional responses to sibling sexual abuse
  • conclusions and reflections

Because of the scale of the problem, all professionals working in health and social care need to be prepared to work with people affected by sibling sexual abuse, including both children and adult survivors. This involves understanding the nature and consequences of the abuse, to be able to help survivors and families move on from harm and distress.

Stuart Allardyce, co-author of the report and director of Stop It Now! Scotland, says: “A sibling acting in a sexually abusive way towards another sibling is the most common kind of sexual abuse that occurs within families. But it is often a hidden crime, rarely reported at the time and often coming to light years after the event."

How to respond to, or prevent, sibling sexual abuse

The CSA Centre’s paper is primarily written for social workers and other professionals involved in the safeguarding of children, but it may be of interest to anyone who finds themselves working with families affected by sibling sexual abuse – for example, teachers, mental health practitioners, foster carers and residential care workers. As sibling sexual abuse is rarely disclosed in childhood, this paper may be of use also to professionals working with adult survivors of sexual abuse.

The report discusses how childcare professionals can better identify sexually abusive interactions between siblings, and respond appropriately. “This response needs to recognise that all involved are children and need to be treated differently to adults in a similar situation, and it also needs to underline the seriousness of this issue,” says Stuart Allardyce.

“We need to get better at intervening in these kinds of cases so that abuse never reoccurs and all family members in these situations get the right support to move on. But we also discuss in the report what we need to do to ensure that this kind of harm is prevented from occurring in the first place. Although written for those involved with child safeguarding, we hope this report will bring this subject out of the shadows and contribute to protecting children from harm home at a time when it is needed more than ever.”

You can find the full paper on the CSA Centre website.

Talk to us if you’re worried about child sexual abuse

Visit the sexual abuse learning programme on our Parents Protect website to find out more about how to keep children safe.

Our confidential child sexual abuse prevention helpline (0808 1000 900) is available for anyone with concerns about child sexual abuse. Callers do not need to give identifying information, so can remain anonymous. We speak to thousands of people every year, and help them act to protect children and young people from sexual abuse and exploitation. You can also get support from our experienced advisors through our live chat and secure messaging service.

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