I am writing about this not because I have been a victim of incest perpetrated by a sibling — I’m an only child, no siblings. However, I got swept up into the family secrets of someone it did happen to, depending upon whether one believes the victim or the perpetrator. Since the perpetrator, if the allegations were true, is a known liar, whereas the veracity of the victim is undetermined, I tend to believe the victim. People don’t make up stuff like this for no reason. This is a subject that matters to me, as I was the victim of abuse — which I will write about in future blog posts. In the meanwhile, I do believe that the best disinfectant is bright sunlight.
Karla Homolka is the worse extreme of sisterly incest. She assisted her boyfriend, Paul Denardo, in the rape and murder of her younger sister. It was a “birthday gift” to him. The couple went on to kidnap, rape, torture, and kill further victims. See the Wikipedia article about Homolka here.
This is going to be a short article, with a few random references and some quotes.
- The Myth of the Female Sex Offender, by Chelsea Horrock
- Incest & Child Abuse: Definitions, Perpetrators, Victims, and Effects
- Ultimate Betrayal: The Sexual Abusers
- Incest Abuse, by Dr. Leanne Levy
- Breaking the last taboo: Sexual abuse by female perpetrators
- Women Who Abuse and sibling abuse, from Daily Strength
- Research — Incest: It Shouldn’t Hurt to Be a Child, from Victims of Violence
- More Than Just Child’s Play: A Study on Sibling Incest, by Nicki Owen, BASW
- Sibling child sexual abuse: Adult female sibling incest survivors, research and treatment, by Kathy Bies-Jaede, Saint Cloud State University
All of the following quotes come from one or another of the above articles:
“Some female offenders commit incestuous offenses, sometimes of their own volition, but often at the urging of a dominant third party male (Vandiver & Kercher, 2004). The exact occurrence of co-offending is difficult to determine, but it is known that women more often offend with another person or in a group than men do (Vandiver et al., 2008). A common stereotype of sex offenders is that they offend against victims of the opposite sex. However, in some studies it has been suggested that the victims of female sex offenders are almost equally likely to be females as males.”
“Many people are shocked when I say that the incest victims I’ve worked with are usually the healthiest members of their families. After all, the victim usually has the symptoms – self-blame, depression, destructive behaviors, sexual problems, suicide attempts, substance abuse—while the rest of the family often seems outwardly healthy.”
“But despite this, it is usually the victim who ultimately has the clearest vision of the truth. She was forced to sacrifice herself to cover up the craziness and the stress in the family system. All her life she was the bearer of the family secret. She lived with tremendous emotional pain in order to protect the myth of the good family. But because of all this pain and conflict, the victim is usually the first to seek help. Her parents, on the other hand, will almost always refuse to let go of their denials and defenses. They refuse to deal with reality.”
“With treatment, most victims are able to reclaim their dignity and their power. Recognizing a problem and seeking help is a sign not only of health but of courage.”
“Perpetrators can be male or female and of any age.”
“Although the sexual abuse of children has been recognized as a serious problem, sibling incest has received relatively little attention as it is rarely reported. Siblings can be the perpetrators of incest as well, including foster or step-siblings. According to Dr. Vernon Wiehe, an author and professor of social work at the University of Kentucky, “as many as 53 out of every 100 children abuse a brother or sister, higher than the percentage of adults who abuse their children or their spouse. What some kids do to their brother or sister inside the family would be called assault outside the family.” Sibling sexual abuse occurs when a more powerful sibling, who may be older or stronger, bribes or threatens a weaker sibling into sexual activity.”
“Comparing male and female offenders, Allen found that the women reported more severe incidents of physical and emotional abuse in their pasts, had run away from home more often, were more sexually promiscuous than male offenders, and had more frequent incidents of being paid for sex. Both male and female offenders reported that their victims were most often members of their own families.”
“Like all forms of sexual abuse, sibling sexual abuse (sibling incest) is an abuse of power, where the more powerful sibling abuses the less powerful. Power can be physical, intellectual or emotional. Sibling abuse is sexual contact between siblings who are of a different age, size, strength or developmental level.”
“Sibling sexual abuse often, but not always, involves some form of force, manipulation or intimidation. Sibling incest can involve forms of non contact abuse, such as forcing another to view pornography or exposing of genitals.”
“In most cases, sibling sexual abuse does not occur in isolation but alongside physical and/or emotional abuse.”
“Research has found that despite the sibling sexual offenders being younger that their adult counterparts, the abusive behaviours are often serious.”
“O’Brien (1991) found that the sibling incest offender makes the victim feel responsible for what is taking place:
“Clinical experience reveals that victims of sibling incest are likely to be implicated gradually as co-conspirators by the abusive sibling so they will share in the responsibility, blame, and punishment for the behavior if the “secret” is disclosed. Once established, this dynamic makes it difficult for victims to resist offenders’ more intrusive sexual demands.”
“Much of the incest took place when opportunities occurred that would allow the older sibling time alone with the girls (sometimes parents were nearby). It appeared that in some of the more chaotic or neglectful families, the older siblings had more opportunity to engage in the sexual behaviours.”
“Sexual abuse in any form is the ultimate violation of a person’s body and psyche since the self, sexuality, and identity are so remarkably intertwined and form the foundation of who we will be in life and how we will able to experience it s peaks and valleys. Sibling abuse is particularly insidious in that the sibling relationship is one that strongly contribute s to how we connect with peers throughout our lifetime (Davis & Petretic-Jackson, 2000).”
“Sibling sexual abuse is not as benign as once believed to be and is actually a widespread and very serious traumatic experience (Phillips-Green, 2002; Worling, 1995; Cole, 1982), especially when the sibling perpetrator is 5 years older or more than the younger sibling (Cole,1982). It is reported to be the most common form of sexual abuse but the least reported and least written about (Ascherman & Safier, 1990; Finkelhor, 1987; Patton, 1991). It is estimated to occur 3 to 5 times more often than father daughter incest (Smith & Israel 1987; Cole, 1982), but at the same time is minimalized (Wiehe, 1990).”
These are all scholarly resources. I won’t pretend that they all agree on every point — too much secrecy means that not enough research has been done. Some of the articles do not address female perpetrators specifically, and paint a broader stroke of incest. But you get the gist….
Of this we can be sure — older female siblings do perpetrate incest against younger female siblings. Stop a minute and think about the sister who would do such a thing. If her conduct is this far outside the norm as a child or young adult, what might she do in maturity? How many people might she hurt along the way? Her parents, her children, her numerous partners? Would you want to be involved in such a person’s life, and their constant chaos? Would you want to be an enabler, and hence a co-conspirator, allowing other victims to fall pray?
Victims need, for their own sake and healing, to speak out and stop the cycle of abuse. Victims must shed their self-blame and shame and speak out. Otherwise, they are co-conspirators, and by covering the family secrets, and allowing innocent others to be victimized, they do take on true blame.
When the AIDS epidemic finally made the headlines, and took its deadly toll, the chant of brave souls was “Silence = Death.” This is true for incest as well.
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