Restoring Relationships in Sibling Sexual Abuse: A Paradigm Shift
Introducing the VORS Principle – Nancy Falls and Melissa Maltar
It is astonishing that for 40+ years it has been known that sibling sexual abuse occurs up to 5 times more frequently than (step) father-daughter abuse (Finkelhor, 1979; Finkelhor, 1980) but there still exists little knowledge about how to address, treat and reunify siblings. The sibling relationship can provide life’s longest intimate relationship and can also be the most damaging. Whether or not intervention is provided, we know that many families/siblings reunify as adults. Unfortunately, there is minimal evidence upon which to base removal and contact decisions and no evidence to indicate whether each sibling’s treatment and well-being outcomes are related to contact decisions. How do we individualise and structure a reunification process with ethical decision-making while balancing the unique developmental needs of each child involved?
It is well established that there is no single factor that can explain the aetiology of sexual offending behaviour and there is also no single aetiological risk factor that explains sibling sexual abuse. We also know that sibling sexual abuse is unique in its dynamics and impact because:
- Siblings share more of their lives genetically and contextually than with other family members (Haskins, 2003);
- Siblings share knowledge, perceptions, attitudes, feelings and beliefs beginning when one sibling first becomes psychologically aware of the other (Briere, 1984; Trepper & Barrett, 1986 in Haskins, 2003);
- • Sibling sexual abuse is unrecognized, underreported, difficult to identify, often avoided, (Ascherman & Safier 1990; Carlson et al. 2006; Finkelhor, 1980), and there is cultural blindness to its frequency and impact (Crowder, 2002; Peterson, 1992; Rowntree, 2007);
- Sibling sexual abuse can involve greater use of violence, intrusiveness, frequency and duration (Adler & Schutz, 1995; Ascherman & Safier, 1990; Caffaro & Conn-Caffaro, 2005; Carlson, et al., 2006 Cyr, et al., 2002; Finkelhor, 1980; Gioro, 1991; Hardy, 2001; O’Brien, 1991; Peterson, 1992; Rudd & Herzberger, 1999; Russell, 1986);
- There are heightened “Bad Parent Syndrome” and divided loyalty issues e.g. parents/carers(Barbour, et al., 1999);
- And, often the sexual abuse is uncovered when victims, as adults, seek treatment for issues they may not even associate with the sibling abuse (Caffaro and Conn-Caffaro 1998; Canavan et al. 1992; Carlson et al. 2006; Laviola 1992; Weihe 1997).