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The Non-Abused Sibling: The Consequence of Disclosure

The sibling relationship is often our longest enduring life bond, and it is well recognised that it has a significant impact on an individual’s development. It is the place we learn about relationships with those more equal to us than parents: about sharing and jealousy, negotiation and conflict, friendship, and resentment. Love them or hate them, connect or fracture, they are always there.

With world estimates of childhood sexual assault at 8 – 31% of girls and 3 – 17% of boys, there are also a large number of others affected by disclosure of abuse and while the literature has concentrated on the consequences for parents little attention has been paid to siblings. Recognizing that most work has been done with small sample sizes recruited through support services, Mcelvaney et al (2022) designed a population-based survey ‘to further elucidate (adult) siblings’ experiences of CSA disclosure by a sibling and changes in family relationships following disclosure’.

The survey identified three key themes: (a) intense emotional reactions, (b) change in sibling relationship, and (c) managing the family dynamics.

Following disclosure, siblings reported ‘a turmoil of emotions,’ initially shock and disbelief followed by intense sadness, anger, and guilt. Many spoke of a strong need to support their sibling and parents with increased communication intensifying the connection. For others, disclosure resulted in increased strain and distancing, with one or both unable to speak of the abuse. Managing family dynamics, especially in cases of intra-familial abuse, was particularly challenging, sometimes resulting in complete breakdown of relationships and fracture of the family. Ambivalence towards an abusing family member and different beliefs and views of the abuse fueled fracture and silence.

A key finding was that reciprocal openness and willingness to discuss were key features of close sibling relationships following disclosure. As practitioners, our capacity to sit with discomfort and support these conversations is central to maintaining social support and enhance outcomes for those who dare to disclose and those who dare to listen.


Mcelvaney, R., Mcdonnell Murray, R., Dunne, S.(2022)  Siblings’ Perspectives of the Impact of Child Sexual Abuse Disclosure on Sibling and Family Relationships Fam Proc 61:858–872

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