Sibling sexual behaviour

Most child sexual abuse takes place within the family home. The most common form of child sexual abuse within families is thought to involve child siblings.

That’s why it is important that parents, carers and professionals understand sibling sexual behaviour, how to respond and where to get help.

What is sibling sexual behaviour?

Sibling sexual behaviour means any type of sexual behaviour between siblings. This can include:

  • Sexual interactions that might be expected or appropriate for the child’s stage of development – it might be behaviour between young siblings and include curiosity or comfort seeking behaviours.
  • Inappropriate or problematic sexual behaviour – this is behaviour outside of what might be expected at a child’s age and stage of development. It might cause developmental harm to the children involved. It might involve an age gap between siblings or one sibling might be more vulnerable because of their developmental needs.
  • Abusive sexual behaviour – there might be a large age gap or a big difference in power, size, strength or developmental abilities. It might involve threats, force, coercion, bribery or manipulation, but often it does not.

How to respond to sibling sexual behaviour

Sibling sexual behaviour can be difficult to understand and assess. Many children do not recognise or understand the harm they have experienced until they are older and know more about sex and relationships.

If you’re a parent or carer

  • If you have concerns about sibling sexual behaviour it is important that you acknowledge your own feelings. You might feel a wide range of emotions including doubt, shock, guilt, anger, denial, shame, failure and confusion. For some parents who have also been a victim of sexual abuse it might trigger difficult feelings or memories. It is important to acknowledge these feelings and get support.
  • Families and professionals need to work together to support all the children involved and avoid placing blame on them. Families might be worried about involving professionals, but it is important that information is shared so that everyone is supported and kept safe.
  • It is important that the children get consistent messages about their behaviour from their parents or carers, other family members and professionals. This will help children to understand the rules and boundaries around their behaviour.
  • It’s important to be warm, supportive and believe what your child has told you.
  • Supervising your children is very important after sibling sexual harm. We recommend completing a home safety plan to help you think about the different steps you need to take as a family to keep everyone safe.

If you’re a professional

  • A safety plan should be put in place for all the children within the family. If the children live between two homes then a safety plan should be implemented in both homes. It is vital for professionals to give families a voice in the decision-making, while also taking a robust approach to safeguarding. Safety plans should be created with families rather than implemented for them.
  • Work with the family as a whole rather than focusing on one child. Professional relationships and responses can impact the family’s engagement and recovery. Professionals should be sensitive to the challenges that families impacted by sibling sexual harm face, particularly when addressing safety planning and talking to families about sensitive information related to the sexual abuse.

For more detailed suggestions about prevention, support and communicating with families and children about sexualised behaviour please refer to the harmful sexual behaviour prevention toolkit.

Sibling sexual behaviour safety plan: a plan to be completed by parents and professionals

Sibling sexual behaviour safety plan: young people’s version

Where to get help

You don’t have to do everything by yourself. The experienced advisors on our confidential Stop It Now helpline (0808 1000 900) can help talk things through. You can stay anonymous and don’t have to give your real name, location or any contact details. If you’re not ready to speak to anyone yet, you can also use our live chat or send a secure email. You can also visit our Parents Protect website for more advice and information.

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