The Children’s Advocacy Center is a multi-disciplinary team of partners that promotes the healing of child sexual abuse victims by providing a strong community response to investigation, treatment and prevention of abuse. Of the 474 children seen in the past two years by our local center, 20 percent were abused by a sibling. Globally, one-third of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a person under the age of 18.

Caffaro & Conn-Caffaro (1998; 2005) define sibling sexual abuse as “sexual behavior between siblings for which the victim is not developmentally prepared, which is not transitory, and which does not reflect age-appropriate curiosity. It may or may not involve physical touching, coercion, or force.” In the book “The Sibling Bond” by Bank and Kahn, sibling incest is characterized as either “nurturance-oriented incest” (expressions of affection and love) or “power-oriented incest” (use of force and domination).

Prevalence rates are difficult to calculate because victims may not realize that they are being abused until years later and have a better understanding of the encounters, are afraid of reporting, or are not believed. Adults often fear what disclosure will do to one or both of the children or dismiss it as “kids being kids.” What differentiates sexual abuse from sexual curiosity or “playing doctor” is the use of coercion, secrecy and domination by the abusing sibling.

More than 80 percent of the non-offending care providers seen at the Children’s Advocacy Center were themselves victims of child abuse, but most never sought services or had services offered to them when they were children. Many report that even when they told an adult about their victimization, they were either not believed or were told that they would be fine and nothing was done to validate their experience, help them speak their truth or provide them with services and support to help them heal.

Children who were sexually victimized by other minors, including sibling on sibling abuse, can experience the same problems as children victimized by adults — anxiety, depression, substance abuse, suicide, eating or sleeping disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and difficulty trusting peers in the context of relationships. The victim might think that the act was normal, think they were the initiator or think they voluntarily participated in the act.

Clearly, both children need help in these situations. The child being abused needs appropriate care to prevent the lifelong trauma impact experienced by many survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The child who is abusing needs proper treatment because they may have also been sexually abused and treatment can prevent them from repeating that behavior. Many adult perpetrators began sexually abusing when they were under the age of 18.


According to “Darkness to Light” (Finkelhor, Shattuck, Broman-Fulks, et al):

• Early adolescents between ages 12 and 14 are the peak of child offenders. This age-range experiences a lot of changes as puberty begins, and if they have a skewed view of sex, they may perpetrate against a younger or smaller child.

• Seventy percent of perpetrators have between 1 and 9 victims. This means that if a child perpetrator gets help after their first victim, they are less likely to go on to abuse more children.

• Sex offenses are the crimes least likely to involve strangers as perpetrators. Just like adult perpetrators, a child sexually abusing another child is most likely a friend or family member — rarely a stranger.

• Children who disclose their abuse within one month are at a reduced risk for depression. If your child can talk about the abuse with you and are believed, they are less likely to suffer from depression later in life related to the abuse.

Sexual abuse can be hard to think about and harder to discuss, but it’s important to educate yourself so you can teach your child what to watch out for. Be aware of everyone your child spends alone time with — older children and adults. Make sure they know that their body is private and no one can touch them without permission. Believe when your child tells you they are being abused.


Every step you take, every talk you have, every time you listen — you are protecting your child from sexual abuse.

Kat Perry is the coordinator of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford Counties, a program of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services.

Kat Perry

If you or someone you know has been a victim of child sexual abuse, free and confidential help is available by calling/texting 1-800-871-7741 or chat at . To report child abuse, call the 24-hour Department of Health and Human Services Emergency line at: 1-800-452-1999 or deaf/hard of hearing line at: 711.

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