Usually when we speak about incestuous families we tend to think of father-daughter incest. Rarely do we think about mother-son or brother-sister. However these types of sex abuse happen and are probably under-reported, hence the reason this incest isn’t known about as broadly as that of parent-child. There is a plethora of studies and research done on father-daughter incest but it’s my guess that there isn’t nearly as much about the aforementioned. That’s unfortunate because these disturbing relationships happen and sibling abuse involves the violation of a victim every bit as much as father-daughter.
My friend once told me about a girl she befriended when they attended university, who was sexually abused by her brother for a number of years. The victim claimed her parents didn’t know about it and so they were unable to help her. Nonsense. How do parents not know that sex abuse is happening between their children? I believe these parents were enablers – the type of people who are abusers by default. That is, they turned a blind eye for whatever perverse reasons they had and allowed the abuse to continue. What are the odds they never caught their son abusing their daughter? Nil. The girl’s denial was her attempt at believing her parents loved her like anyone else’s parents. She had to keep a sense of family intact in her mind or she would probably have suffered a break down.
Sibling Sexual Abuser Profile
- grooms the victim in precisely the way a pedophile grooms an unsuspecting child.
- tends to be older and more powerful than the victim.
- frequently is male, although this isn’t always the case.
- wins the trust of the younger sibling then sexually abuses him or her.
- intimidates the victim into keeping her/his silence.
- instills guilt and shame (“you wanted it”).
- may bribe the victim into participation.
- may offer gifts to ensure the victim’s silence.
- abuser may also be a foster or step-sibling.
- abuser has been given too much trust and responsibility over the victim.
Types of Sexual Abuse
Actual touching or sexual intercourse may not occur in incestuous situations. Sometimes a sibling may insist on watching a sibling change clothes, take a shower, or use the washroom (voyeurism). The abuser may force the victim to watch pornographic films. The abuser may also expose him or herself to the victim (exhibitionism).
Parents as Enablers
Parents who give one sibling too much responsibility for the other may be setting the foundation for sibling sexual abuse. They may be avoiding their own responsibility as parents due to a lack of interest in raising their own children or because they have other priorities, such as work or socializing. These parents also fail to pay attention to the amount of trust they place in one sibling over the other.
Parents as Abusers by Proxy
Parents who are dysfunctional may force their children to witness sexual acts between each other. Sometimes there is an abusive spouse who beats and rapes his/her spouse. In addition to this sexual abuse of children by proxy, the parents victimize the weaker sibling feel even more when they allow the abuser to continue to take responsibility over the victim. Parents often refuse to believe the victim when she or he exposes the abuse. They want to have a “normal” family and enter into denial, abusing the victim even more. Sometimes parents themselves have been victims of sexual abuse and by denying that incest is repeating itself in their own families, they can deny that it ever happened to them as children.
Some parents believe the abuse has been happening but they accuse the victim of instigating it. They may call the victim “slutty” or “dirty”. Ergo, parents and the offending sibling keep the incest a secret, causing even more betrayal for the victim. Some parents tell themselves that sexual abuse is a phase and the offender will “grow out of it.” This doesn’t happen. Incest isn’t a phase and siblings are able to abuse victims for years because of the availability of the victim.
Abnormal Behaviours in Victims and Abusers
- Frequently rubs genitals instead of playing
- Keeps asking questions about sex even after questions have
been reasonably answered
- Persists in watching adults in the bathroom
- Forces other children to play doctor
- Pretends to have intercourse
Frank, Kathy’s older brother, was charged under the Young Offenders Act with sexually abusing his younger sister Kathy. His probation officer enforced the court order that he attend counseling. Frank, who was 15, told his counselor that his classmates were bigger and more sexually ‘successful’ than he was, and that one of them had dared him to have sex with a girl. He said that he was afraid to even talk to a girl, let alone ask for a date. He admitted that he made his younger sister Kathy have sexual intercourse with him one evening when he was babysitting her.
There were several factors involved in Frank’s becoming a sibling sex offender. His father abused his mother physically, emotionally, and sexually. He abused Frank sexually and emotionally by having forceful, abusive sex with his mother in front of him. His actions taught Frank that it was acceptable for a male in authority to use force on the rest of the family. Not only that, his rules for the family were so strict that Frank handn’t learned to socialize with other teenagers. Feeling pressure from his peers, he tried to get information and experience by forcing himself on his younger sister.
Sexually Reactive Behaviour
Children who have been sexually abused, either by family members or by adults or older children, sometimes react by coaxing, manipulating, or forcing younger children into the same kind of sexual behaviour. Brothers and sisters may become the victims of this ‘second hand’ abuse. Sexually intrusive children who act out their own abuse in this way are sometimes called ‘sexually reactive’. Children who are being sexually victimized, such as Frank, may become sexually intrusive.
If children are neglected, either physically or emotionally, they might engage in sexual activities. They might try sexual activities they have learned from other children, or they might experiment, on their own, to learn how to get sexual pleasure. Part of their behaviour might come from their need to give and receive comfort when they’re getting non from their parents.
Jamie, 12, became sexually excited by watching a rock video. He wondered what it would be like to watch his eight-year-old sister, Carole-Anne, dance in the nude. Two or three times when his parents were out for the evening he talked her into taking off her clothes and dancing in front of the television set. Then he told her that one day she’d be a great dancer and a rock star. After that Carole-Anne started running in front of the television set all the time just to get his attention. When Jamie complained that Carole-Anne was a nuisance, Carole-Anne told her mother what Jamie had made her do. Her mother recognized that Jamie’s behaviour had been abusive.
When Carole-Anne told her mother what Jamie had done, she was fortunate in that her mother believed her and was very concerned about the abuse Jamie had inflicted upon his sister. She asserted rules over the children’s behaviour. Jamie agreed not to force Carole-Anne to do things she didn’t want to do, and to respect Carole-Anne’s privacy. Carole-Anne agreed to report any future abuse of authority to her mother. Both children agreed to ask one of their parents to intervene if they couldn’t handle this conflict on their own. Unfortunately most sibling sexually abusive relationships aren’t resolved in as healthy a manner as Carole-Anne’s family.
Ancient Roots in Sibling Incest
This section of this bog doesn’t idolize or condone sibling incest. This is merely a brief history of sibling incest that is intended to explain the origins of this abuse.
In ancient times, sibling incest was generally as reviled then as it is today. However the one exception to this rule was the King of Egypt who often married his sister. The practice of social inbreeding, known as endogamy, is not uncommon among royal houses; to a lesser degree it is practiced among royalty today. An Egyptian male would become pharaoh but only by marrying the heiress princess who under normal circumstances was the potential king’s sister. More and more Egyptologists are now discarding this idea forcing us to seek new reasons for the large number of brother-sister, father-daughter marriages. Children between siblings also maintained bloodlines among noble and royal families. In these situations however siblings were usually raised apart from one another.
Marriage was the norm for Egyptians, but where does a princess find a husband of equal rank since marriage to a foreign prince was definitely not allowed. Brother-sister and even father-daughter marriages provided some solution to this problem. It has also been suggested that brother-sister marriage was a way for Pharaohs to emulate the gods and goddesses and to set themselves apart from the rest of the population. In the case of the Egyptian royal house, the practice was carried to the extreme, and frequently included the marriage of the pharaoh to his own daughters.
In Egypt, the practice seems to have stemmed from a motive more noble than simply the preservation of property. The Egyptian priesthood was determined that the divine bloodline of Horus should remain pure in the royal house. There was also a religious precedent: Osiris was married to his sister, Isis, and the product of that union was Horus, the alleged ancestor of the Pharaoh. Certainly the ability to claim direct blood descent from a god enhanced the pharaoh’s prestige. Though there is minimal genetic evidence, the eighteenth dynasty was sustained for two and a half centuries by incestuous marriages, and the products of those marriages, not surprisingly, possessed unusual physical and mental health.
Ancient religions extolled the virtues of sibling incest. Brother-sister relationships appear in Egyptian, Norse, and Greek legends, often between heroic deities, and in many of those tales the offspring from those pairings are destined for something equally mythic.
Why did kings marry their sisters in so many historic societies, like ancient Hawaii, the Inca kingdoms, pre-industrial Thailand, and several African realms?
- Incest set the king above society. If a king can break society’s most basic rules, he stands above society. Plus, a truly lofty king has no peer other than his sister, since only she shares his exalted birth. A noblewoman couldn’t stand beside him as his queen and near equal, and neither could a princess from a lesser dynasty. So the propaganda of exalted kingship sometimes demanded incest.
- Incest was god-like. The Greek god Zeus married his sister: the goddess Hera. So did the Egyptians’ Osiris, marrying his sister Isis. The Inca god-king Manco Capac married his sister too. The same goes for a long list of gods from across the world. So by marrying his sister, a king become god-like.
- Incest keeps down the supply of rival families. By marrying their sisters, kings keep noble families from claiming semi-royal status through marriage links with the royal family.
- Many royal siblings didn’t know each other well. Royal siblings often grew up with limited contact. Nature prevents attraction among children raised in the same household, but that doesn’t necessarily prevent attraction between a king and a sister he hardly knew. Ick.
King Tutankhamun was a good example of why siblings and families shouldn’t inter-marry. Tut was a hobbled, weak teenager with a cleft palate and club foot and he had his parents to blame. Mother and father of the legendary boy pharaoh were brother and sister. Generations of inbreeding took their toll on King Tut. He was the last of his great dynasty. The bone disease he suffered runs in families and is more likely to be passed down if two first-degree relatives marry and have children. He was described as ‘A young but frail king who needed canes to walk.’ This explains the presence of more than 100 canes in his tomb, which he would have needed in the afterlife. Still he was a reasonably attractive boy as depicted in the photo on the left.
In the late 1970’s the King Tut craze dominated North America after his tomb was discovered. A plethora of media from jewellery that reflected Pyramid Power (eg. one piece of merchandise were little pyramid necklaces wherein a person could hide a small personal object) to a 1979 top 40 song entitled aptly “King Tut”sung by Steve Martin, were the order (pun) of the day. Tut’s life was short but his legend is everlasting. I’m sure the frail boy-King would have been proud.