Research Output
Sibling sexual abuse: why don't we talk about it?
  Aims and objectives
To explore two hypotheses for explaining why there is little written about sibling sexual abuse and to raise awareness of the subject in order better to protect children and to facilitate sensitive patient care.
While there is no universal agreement over its definition, sibling sexual abuse is acknowledged internationally as a prevalent form of child sexual abuse but tends not to be recognised by health professionals. It is also under-represented within the literature in comparison to other forms of intrafamilial sexual abuse. Understanding why this is may help to illuminate the potential barriers to effective professional responses. Two explanations which emerge strongly are the existence of a sibling incest taboo and a prevailing belief that sibling sexual behaviour is largely harmless.
Discursive position paper.
The paper examines the two hypotheses through exploration of the extant literature on sibling incest and sibling sexual abuse.
Sibling sexual abuse accounts for a significant minority of child sexual abuse and has the potential to be as harmful as sexual abuse by a parent. An abhorrence at the thought of sibling sexual activity and a prevailing view of its harmlessness may hinder nurses’ detection of and appropriate responses to sibling sexual abuse, but do not provide convincing explanations for the dearth of literature. Instead, a deeply-held perspective of sibling relationships as non-abusive offers a more profound explanation.
Relevance to clinical practice
A knowledge of sibling sexual abuse and its consequences are important both for the effective protection of children and the sensitive and appropriate treatment of patients who present with a variety of physical and mental health concerns. A perspective that sibling relationships are non-abusive provides a deeper level of understanding of the powerful obstacles to raising awareness of and responding appropriately to this form of abuse.

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  • Date:

    23 August 2016

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  • DOI:


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  • Library of Congress:

    HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform


Yates, P. (2017). Sibling sexual abuse: why don't we talk about it?. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 26(15-16), 2482-2494.



Patient Care, Nurses, Child abuse, Child sexual abuse, Sexual abuse, Incest, Siblings, Sibling relations, Sibling sexual abuse, Child protection

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