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Don't Forget the Brothers & Sisters: Nonabused Siblings of Children Who Have Been Abused

Including siblings in treatment permits families to realize the maximum benefits of therapy for the victim as well as each family member.

—Baker, Tanis, & Rice, 2001

A child can't help being affected in some way by the sexual abuse of a brother or sister, but siblings' needs are often overlooked.

Nonabused children whose siblings have been abused may have to deal with:

  • confusion because adults do not explain what is going on
  • feeling neglected because their parent's attention is absorbed by the needs of the child who has been abused
  • feeling guilty because they knew or suspected the abuse, but did not say anything
  • feeling guilty because they was spared from being abused
  • being overwhelmed by a parent who treats the child as a confidante and leans heavily on the child
  • being upset because of the changes in the family
  • feeling anger toward either the abuser or toward the abused child because it seems as though the victim disrupted the family's life
  • unwelcome changes in routine
  • absence of an abusive parent or extended family member, which may feel like a loss
  • worry that they may be victimized as well
  • repeated questioning by parents or authorities to determine if they have been abused

Therapists and advocates can help by ensuring that siblings' needs are recognized. These needs may include:

  • clear, age-appropriate explanations about the abuse and what is happening in the family now
  • additional attention from trusted adults (such as a grandparent, aunt, or uncle) when the parent is overwhelmed
  • arrangements to keep up with their normal routine and activities to the extent possible
  • some individual time and attention from the parent(s)
  • consistent (age-appropriate) rules for all kids in the family, to the extent possible
  • individual or family therapy

Providing information to parents about the needs of nonabused siblings is vitally important for families affected by abuse.


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Reviewed: September 1st, 2015