For national Women’s Day last week, I was asked by a church to speak at their Women’s Day Ladies Afternoon Tea about Gender Violence and how we can make a difference. A lady contacted me afterwards for help as her mother was experiencing Elder Abuse at the hands of her son and the lady who contacted me, being part of the same family was subjected to abuse by the same person – her brother (Sibling Abuse).
This got me thinking about Inter-Personal Violence (Family Violence). How many of us think about this?
How many of us are subjected to this kind of violence without even realising it? As part of my BA Criminology studies this year, one of my modules deals with Child and Youth Misbehaviour and this is what I managed to find out about the subject of Family Violence.
There are generally two types of intra-familial violence committed by children and youth: (a) Parent abuse and murder and (b) Sibling Abuse.
Family violence is considered to be a private, domestic and even “normal” phenomenon by the victims and perpetrators, and interference by outsiders is not tolerated. Parent abuse is often overlooked because it is not seen to be an extensive or problematic aspect of family interaction.
Parents are also not likely to report the abuse that they suffer because they may blame themselves for the victimisation, or they may feel that others will blame them for their children’s behaviour. Parent abuse involves: physical attack, verbal and non-verbal threats and emotional battering of a parent or both parents by a child.
Parent abuse involves the throwing or use of objects as a weapon, pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, kicking, biting and threatening to use, or using a knife or gun in an impulsive or situational episode against a parent.
There are also more subtle forms of abuse, i.e. personal and property theft, leaving a disabled person alone without food, water and help. Cursing and shouting at the parent to the extent that the parent experiences it as dehumanising is another form of parent abuse. Children who assault their parents:-
• Are likely to have friends who also assault their parents
• Approve of misbehaviour, including violence
• Show weak attachment to their parents
• Tend to be male
An extreme form of parent abuse is Parricide (i.e. the murder of one’s parents) There is a difference between Matricide (killing of the mother) and Patricide (killing of the father). Patricide (killing of the father) can be committed by any one of the three types of perpetrators:
• A severely abused child who is pushed beyond his/her limits
• A severely mentally ill child
• A dangerously anti-social child
It is not uncommon for conflict to occur between siblings, but the following criteria distinguishes conflict from abuse:
• The interaction becomes violent
• A sibling feels that he/she is powerless to stop the interaction
• The conflict persists over a period of time
• The interaction is directed towards only one sibling
The characteristics of sibling abusers are as follows:
• Prior victimisation by parents, older siblings and other non-family members
• Lack of impulse control
• Lack of empathy towards the victim(s)
• Inadequate social skills and emotional immaturity
• Alcohol and drug abuse
• Use of coercion and force to control the victim
Sibling abuse can be physical, psychological or sexual by nature.
• When one sibling causes physical harm or injury to, or the death of another sibling.
• It includes pushing, hitting, kicking, beating and using weapons to inflict pain or injury.
• Contributing factors include: inner rage, impulsivity, a desire for power and control, drug use, prior victimisation and deficient interpersonal skills.
The family structure of the physical assaulter appears to be important in sibling assault, especially the birth order and gender of the children.
• First born males: use physical violence and are more powerful and bossier than younger siblings
• Sibling violence tends to occur more often in families with only male children as opposed to families consisting of only female children
• The rate of sibling violence for the age group ten to fourteen years among male only siblings is more than double that for girls in all-female families
This could include the following:
• Emotional abuse – which includes the neglect of a sibling as well as forcing a sibling to witness violence
• Verbal abuse – aimed at ridiculing, insulting, threatening, terrorising or belittling a brother or a sister
• Acts aimed at rejecting, degrading and exploiting a sibling
• Destroying the property of a sibling
Sexual abuse or sibling incest includes sexual behaviour between siblings that is long-lasting, not motivated by age-appropriate curiosity and for which the victim is not developmentally prepared. In the majority of cases the perpetrator of sibling incest is an older brother molesting a younger sister.
There are three possible explanations for this:
• The older brother uses the younger and less experienced sister for sexual experimentation
• A neglected or sexually inept brother sexually assaults the sister owing to a lack of parental affection or unavailable female peers
• The perpetrator himself was physically and/or sexually abused and forces the sister into a sexual relationship through coercion and violence
Apart from brother-sister incest, sexual assault can also be between sister and brother, brother and brother and sister and sister. When it comes to sister-brother incest, it has been found that in most cases the female incest offender had experienced prior physical and/or sexual abuse, most often at the hands of a male. The male victim of this type of incest is not likely to report the incident because of the socialisation process prohibiting boys from talking about their feelings, sharing problems or demonstrating vulnerability. Also, boys are generally less willing than girls to disclose information about sexual abuse.
Not much is known about brother to brother incest. From the research available, it appears that it usually involves older brothers having unsupervised contact with younger male siblings. Again, the victim is unlikely to report the abuse, because same sex assault may lead to questions around the sexuality of the victim and he may fear being stigmatised as homosexual.
One of the least studied themes is sister to sister abuse. The limited research available suggests that a father and/or older brother may have previously molested the perpetrator. It has been found that sister to sister incest is less traumatic for the victim, there is less force or coercion used by the perpetrator, it is shorter in duration than other types of incest and is less violating than brother to sister incest.
The common thread in all of the above is that regardless of the type of sibling abuse (physical, psychological or sexual), all the perpetrators were victims of abuse themselves.
Source: Bezuidenhout, C & Joubert, SJ. 2nd Edition. 2008. Child & Youth Misbehaviour in South Africa: A holistic approach. Pretoria: Van Schaik.
Although the information above relates to child and youth misbehaviour, I am sure there must be a link to adult perpetrators of Elder and/or Sibling Abuse. The above information can provide insight as to what could possibly have gone wrong during their childhood which led to them becoming abusive as adults.
What do you think?