What is sibling abuse? Part 1

Sibling abuse causes a lot of pain among both adults and children in form of an often long-term mental ill-health and is the most common form of family violence in Sweden. Children with some kind of disabilities are particularly affected. Nevertheless, very little is said about this problem in the society. Perhaps people may find it hard to imagine that a child may consciously want to hurt their sibling or that it is able to cause as much harm as an adult can or that the boundaries between sibling rivalry and sibling violence may sometimes appear to be somewhat blurred for a third party? In addition, the abuse often continues into adulthood. An adult person who has been subjected to sibling abuse is called survivor, also in cases where the abuse hasn’t stopped.

In the United States, about 53 out of every 100 children are subjected to abuse by a sibling each year and about 30% of them are being subjected to abuse by a brother or sister on a more regular basis. In the U.S.A. there have also been several cases where children have killed another sibling. Thankfully I haven’t heard about something like this happening in Sweden as yet. On the other hand, there is about one murder a year according to The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå), where an adult kills his or her adult sibling.

Unfortunately, there are no statistics on how many people in Sweden who are affected. The only thing you can be sure of is that the number of victims is likely to be very many. What you can be sure of, however, is that it is much more common than other family violence. Some experts mean that sibling abuse is up to five times more common than other forms of family violence.

Most commonly, it is older children who subject their younger siblings to abuse, but the opposite does happen too. There are also indications that it is more common for boys than for girls to abuse their siblings. Some experts say that this is not the case in Sweden, as we are a comparatively equal country. I am convinced though, that it may be so, as this problem probably has more to with the gender itself than with the gender roles. Girls are also more subjected to sibling abuse than boys. If the parents favour one of the children, then it is common for the other siblings to abuse that child. The opposite may also be true, that if the parents benefit one of the children at the expense of their other children, then that child may very well begin to abuse another sibling.

Many times, children tend to expose their siblings to the same kind of abuse that they witness between their parents. Sibling abuse is thus more often present in already dysfunctional families and in families where the parents are mentally or physically absent or where there is some kind of alcohol or drug abuse. Sibling abuse is also more common in families, where there are half siblings or step siblings.

It is often said that both parties are responsible if rivalry or fights occur. Because sometimes the victim may behave in such a way that encourage his or her sibling to abuse him or her. This observation, of course, does not excuse sibling abuse, but merely states that the victim can unconsciously occasionally contribute to his or her own problems.

Sibling abuse has to do with power and control. The reason is said to be contempt and envy. Sibling perpetrators often feel a strong need for dominating others and to feel that they have power and that they are in charge. Then they can therefore try to get the upper hand as they feel powerless or have inferiority complexes to their victims. The strongest feeling that many victims are bearing witness about is the sense of powerlessness they experience during and after the abuse.

The loyalty between siblings usually tends to be very high. Scientific studies therefore show that it is extremely unusual for a person to accuse their sibling of abuse, unless this is true. So, if someone says that he or she is suffering abuse from a sibling, one can assume that the victim is telling the truth. On the other hand, it is very common for the abusive sibling not to stand for the ill-treatment he or she has subjected their siblings to.

Now the entry is over for this time. Please, take care of yourself and others. Thank you. See you if you wish to, next week.


You are welcome to comment if you like, but please do so with respect and good judgment.


Book: Perilous rivalry by Vernon R. Wiehe, Teresa Herring, 1991

Book: Sibling abuse by Vernon R. Wiehe, 1997

Book: Sibling abuse trauma by John V. Caffaro, 2014


© Helén Varenius – text and photo