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Juvenile Sex Offenders: Opportunity for Early Intervention
10 CEUs Juvenile Sex Offenders: Opportunity for Early Intervention

Section 17
"But She Didn't Say No": An Exploration of Sibiling Sexual Abuse

Question 17 | Test | Table of Contents | Conduct Disorders CEU Courses
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'But she didn't say no', a 12-year-old-boy said as he explored when as an eight-year-old he sexually abused his four-year-old sister. For him the words were uttered in part as an excuse and part in wondering why she did not speak out, because as he said 'It must have hurt her'. His words reflect the pendulum nature of acceptance and minimization that exists among perpetrators, professionals and the wider community when sibling sexual abuse comes to the fore. In the face of this oscillation, the following paper aims to explore the dynamics and impact of sibling sexual abuse and the implications this has for professional intervention in New South Wales.

Dynamics of sibling sexual abuse
Much of sibling sexual abuse has been given anonymity behind the acceptance that this behavior is sibling sexual experimentation and is playful in nature - 'You show me yours and I'll show you mine.' Increasingly, however, within the professional community there is a challenge to the notion that sibling sexual abuse is always this benign. Bank and Kahn (1982) and Pierce and Pierce (1990) identified a form of sibling sexual behavior that was characterized by exploitation and coercion and therefore abusive. Cole (1982) challenges the notion of blindly accepting the predominance of positive sibling abuse. Cole writes, 'Reports of positive sibling incest should be carefully examined. Sibling incest can be and often is, as traumatizing as sexual abuse of a child by an adult.' (Cole 1982: p. 88). Tsun (1999) challenges the view that sibling sexual abuse is enjoyable and harmless as this view 'largely discounts it as a serious form of sexual abuse, and thereby underestimates its impact on victims' (Tsun 1999: p. 71).

Power dynamic in sibling sexual abuse
A power dynamic is widely recognized in familial sexual abuse of a child by an adult caregiver. In sibling abuse, a similar power dynamic exists, often older sibling over younger. Brother-sister sexual abuse is believed to be the most commonly occurring abuse (Weeks 1976; Finkelhor 1980; Arndt 1995). Cole (1982) highlights that, 'Several authors point out that incest by mutual consent is psychologically impossible when participants are unequal in power.' (Cole 1982 : p. 86-87) and Pierce and Pierce (1990) contend that the perceived power of one sibling over another is sufficient to create a coercive dynamic. Cattaro and Cattaro (1998) point out that sibling abuse, while it may not always include physical force, is based on coercion or manipulation.

Family context
Several authors have discussed the familial context of sibling sexual abuse (Finklehor 1980; De Jong 1988; Daie et al. 1989; Ascherman & Safier 1990; Canavan et al. 1992; Hellesnes 1998; Rudd & Herzberger 1999; Tsun 1999). The factors that have been highlighted as pertinent in families were sibling sexual abuse occurs are domestic violence, lack of parental emotional connection and supervision and problems across intergenerational boundaries. While there are identifiable factors particular to families where sibling sexual abuse occurs, professionals should not be blinded to other important clinical information outside the family that could form part of the context for the abusive behavior. Jenkins (1990) highlights the characteristics of Western Society that are highly restraining to the promotion of respectful behaviors and the taking of responsibility by those who abuse others.

Implications of sibling sexual abuse for professional practice
Although the literature in this paper supports the evidence of the harmful effects of sibling sexual abuse, it is the author's concern that in her experience of providing counseling and consultancy throughout New South Wales, this knowledge is not consistently translated into practice. She has all too often come into contact with professionals who minimize, blame or disbelieve the victims of sibling sexual abuse. Professionals who come into contact with sibling sexual abuse need to throw off the legacy that sibling sexual abuse is only a game of 'show me yours . . .'. They need to recognize that sibling abuse does occur, it is abusive and has harmful effects on its victims. Professional intervention needs to be guided by this.

Professional intervention- Children under 10: child protection concerns
It is important the work with siblings under the age of 10 happens within a professional context. Structure is needed to ensure children do not slip through without receiving service. Ryan (2000b) writes: 'In many jurisdictions, younger children who abuse are falling through the cracks even after they were identified because they were too young to be arrested and the behaviors did not involve family members, thus not meeting criteria for either law enforcement or family services resources. These cracks can often be eliminated quite simply by either legislative or administrative
delegation of responsibility.' (Ryan 2000b: p. 53) In New South Wales it is possible for the Department of Community Services to take a leading role in the 'administrative delegation of responsibly' by placing sibling sexual abuse within a child protection framework. That it is a child protection issue and therefore lies within their core business is based on the
following main factors:
o The sexual abuse of one sibling by another means a child has been abused and that they remain at risk until professional intervention is activated.
o The abusing behavior may be as a result of a sexually abusive or traumatic history.
o The child who abused may live in an environment where there are preconditions for continuing abuse, such as domestic
violence, physical abuse or exposure to pornography.
o Their sexually abusive behavior may put them at risk of physical, emotional or psychological abuse from parents seeking revenge or by being rejected by the family.

Children over 10: the age of criminal intent
Where the child is subject to criminal proceedings as a result of their sexually abusive behaviors, it can open the way for treatment under the juvenile justice system. Where this is not available the New South Wales Children and Young
Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998, Section 75 (1), p 47 allows for treatment: 'The Children's Court may, subject to this section, make an order; (a) Requiring a child of less than 14 years of age to attend a therapeutic program relating to sexually abusive behaviors, and (b) Requiring the parents of a child to take whatever steps are necessary to enable a child to participate in a treatment program.' This order cannot be made unless the court is satisfied that there is a treatment plan outlining the therapeutic program. This will hopefully lead to better case planning and management for children, and therefore siblings, who sexually abuse. With legislative and administrative delegation of responsibility in place it is important that the investigative and treatment systems are in place and fully functioning.

Creating safety for children, who are abused by siblings, is initially the responsibility of the agencies charged with protection. It is important that the New South Wales Department of Community Service and the New South Wales Police Department include the issue of sibling abuse in the core training of their staff. Subsequently, the professionals charged with these investigative duties need adequate ongoing training and supervision on the issue of sibling sexual abuse to ensure their practice remains fully informed.

Investigation of sibling sexual abuse needs to take into account the impact of the familial context for wider child protection issues. As Rudd and Herzberger (1999) point out; 'If we identify this level of chaos in a family, we need to be mindful to protect children from all forms of abuse; emotional, physical and sexual. This may be difficult due to the "normal" appearance of the family and the pressure imposed on the child to maintain the chaotic family system and the incest secret. Knowing the child's reluctance to disclose the incest ought to lead us to rethink the mechanisms in place to facilitate disclosure and subsequent protection of the child.' (Rudd & Herzberger 1999: p. 927). It is imperative that all cases of sibling sexual abuse are thoroughly investigated, assessed and referred to the appropriate services. The agencies charged with investigating sibling abuse need clear and specific procedural guidelines in relation to sibling abuse that are policy driven and not left up to the individual opinion of investigative officers as to whether sibling abuse is harmful or not. This initial stage of intervention sets the scene for all subsequent professional intervention. If the sibling, who has been abusive, and the family are not held within a child protection and/or legal framework then expecting any form of change or any form of active and meaningful responsibility taking, is lost. Ultimately so is the chance to make lasting protective change in families.

DiGiorgio-Miller's (1998) advice about treatment is that the reporting of sibling abuse to child protection services; 'is clinically indicated. 'By not involving the authorities, the clinician is relying solely on the family's resources to prevent further abuse. This is risky because most families are in crisis at the time of disclosure and are not able to protect the victim. In addition, the abuse took place in the context of the family and until family members can learn protective strategies, the victims and others remain at risk' (DiGiorgio-Miller 1998: p. 339). It is imperative that the treatment of sibling sexual abuse happens within a child protection framework and that child protection and police services have agencies to which they can refer cases of sibling abuse for treatment. In upholding a child protection framework, treatment services need to be flexible in their approach. Unrealistic expectations of families and stringent referral criteria can lead to the screening out of siblings who engage in abusive behaviors. A CREATE report (2000) examined practice changes needed to meet the participation principle of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act passed in 1998. During the consultation process involved in putting the report together, they found that very few services exist for children and young people who exhibit sexually abusive behavior. Recommendation 19 of this report reads: 'Children's Court and other stakeholders in the Care and Protection sector, must have knowledge of services available for children and young people who exhibit sexually abusive behavior for the purpose of referral' (CREATE 2000: p. 37).
Currently, in New South Wales, the Department of Juvenile Justice provides specialist programs for young people over 10 who have sexually abused. Mirvac House in the Southern Highlands provides the first residential treatment program for 12-16 year-olds who have sexually abused others.

The debate on providing treatment to children or young people, including siblings who sexually abuse, is dogged by the concern that is not effective. Results from the research done by Worling and Curwen (2000) show that community based treatment program they researched was effective in reducing the risk of adolescent recidivism. Ryan (2000) also reminds us of the importance of treatment for this group of children and young people: 'It must be remembered, however, that the goal of early identification and intervention with the adolescent or child who exhibits sexually abusive behavior is prevention: to prevent the habituation of abusive sexuality and return the juvenile to a more normative developmental path. It is [the] juveniles' capacity for rapid growth and development which provides the impetus for treatment programs to address this problem at its onset and which account for the optimism in the field'?(Ryan 2000: p. 55). While we have programs and services in New South Wales working with young people who sexually abuse, there is a lack of published evaluation of their effectiveness. It is the authors understanding that the New Street program in Sydney is currently undergoing a major evaluation. It is important in New South Wales, that while attempting to standardize practice and provide coordinated and comprehensive service delivery, the need for more research into factors associated with recidivism and treatment effectiveness is addressed.
- McVeigh MA, Mary Jo; 'But she didn't say no': an exploration of sibling sexual abuse'; Australian Social Work; Jun2003, Vol 56 Issue 2, p116-126, 11p

Personal Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information about using limited choices to avoid power struggles. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Matlasz, T. M., Frick, P. J., Robertson, E. L., Ray, J. V., Thornton, L. C., Wall Myers, T. D., Steinberg, L., & Cauffman, E. (2020). Does self-report of aggression after first arrest predict future offending and do the forms and functions of aggression matter? Psychological Assessment, 32(3), 265–276.

van den Berg, J. W., Smid, W., Schepers, K., Wever, E., van Beek, D., Janssen, E., & Gijs, L. (2018). The predictive properties of dynamic sex offender risk assessment instruments: A meta-analysis. Psychological Assessment, 30(2), 179–191.

Wylie, L. E., & Rufino, K. A. (2018). The impact of victimization and mental health symptoms on recidivism for early system-involved juvenile offenders. Law and Human Behavior, 42(6), 558–569.

According to DiGiorgio-Miller, why is it clinically indicated to report sibling sexual abuse to child protection services? Record the letter of the correct answer the Test.

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