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What is Sibling Sexual Abuse?

Not all sexual behaviours between siblings are harmful, therefore it is important to distinguish behaviours that may be a result of age appropriate curiosity and what behaviours have the potential to cause significant harm. There are a number of factors to consider in relation to this, such as: age, stages of development, intent, victimisation, the social, emotional and cognitive development of the young persons and other factors need taken into account.

Behaviour's outside the normative range may be called ‘harmful’, because it is harmful to others, or to the child or young person themselves therefore when talking about sibling sexualised behaviours that have the potential to cause significant harm professional's often refer to it as Harmful Sexualised Behaviours(HSB) or Problematic Sexualised Behaviour if the child who has caused harm is under 18 years of age.

At present there is no universal definition for Sibling Sexual Abuse. Yet is estimated to be the most common form of childhood sexual abuse in the home. The RCEW National Project on Sibling Sexual Abuse summarises the definition of sibling sexual abuse as: “A form of harmful sexual behaviour or activity involving the misuse of power and victimising intent or outcome between children who self-identify as siblings”.

In summary, it is described as unwanted sexual behaviours that involve children:

  • In the same biological family and/or living in the same house.

  • Including and not limited to, half siblings, step siblings, foster/adoptive siblings, or cousins who have a sibling like relationship.

  • Goes beyond natural curiosity and age-appropriate sexual development. It causes emotional and or physical harm to the children involved.

  • One of the children involved was ‘victimised’ by the other, Includes touching and non-touching activity.


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