Content Warning: Child abuse

For me to approach the conversation around Sibling Sexual Abuse (SSA) is slightly difficult, because as I write this I am aware of how inadequate the Indian society is in addressing child abuse and how normalized abuse is in our society in general. The conversation around sexual violence within families in our society renders me with a sense of hopelessness.

When I was sexually abused for the first time by my sister I was a child, and we were 12 and 7 years old respectively. For those of you who think that children the age of my sister cannot comprehend the consequences of what they were doing and probably did not understand the nature of what they were doing was sexual, I would like to say that even if there might be some truth to the former, there is definitely no truth to the latter.

For starters, children start displaying curiosities about their bodies even before the initiation of well formed thought processes in their brain, it can start as early as infancy. However, most of the curiosity around their bodies is very innocuous in nature, and generally there are no sinister undertones to it. The process of exploration of your own body and familiarization with it is in fact, quite healthy.

Children, irrespective of their inadequacy to deal with the consequences of their actions, are capable of inflicting abuse, and also understand the nature of the abuse is sexual. Children as young as 6 years of age display curiosities not just about their own bodies, but others’ bodies as well. SSA is more common with siblings of opposite gender, but can also take place between siblings of the same gender, as in my case.

Our understanding of sexual abuse shouldn’t be gender segregated.

The sexual abuse in my case went on for years, during the course of which I informed my parents several times of the abuse. My sister unequivocally denied the abuse and my parents, even if they half believed what I said, told me to be mindful and not “indulge in anything that would incite my sister into doing it again.”

If this were to happen to me as an adult I would immediately recognize the gaslighting and the discourse around victim blaming, but I was not an adult – I was a child. I was impressionable and my perceptions were formed by what I was taught and what I observed from those who were responsible for me.

Those who were responsible for me were unequipped and inadequate to deal with what was presented to them, probably because the discourse around sexual violence in families leans towards a) the denial of it, b) establishing sanctity of family because of the conflation of state and religion, c) victim blaming because survivors initiate a conversation that makes everyone uncomfortable.

A lot of people express their disbelief around the fact that SSA can be as traumatic as, say abuse inflicted by an adult, which is untrue. Survivors of SSA are in fact extremely vulnerable to eating disorders, anxiety and depression, post traumatic stress disorders and substance abuse.

Survivors of SSA are in fact extremely vulnerable to eating disorders, anxiety and depression, post traumatic stress disorders and substance abuse.

There is cultural variance in how SSA is addressed, but talking specifically about our society, which is largely conservative, the conversation around abuse within family is at a nascent stage. In fact, there is next to zero visibility for abuse victims who are sexually harassed by their parents, a form of abuse which has a lot of visibility in the West.

It is also difficult to report SSA in regions where it is recognized as a legitimate form of abuse. SSA entails emotional manipulation, guilt and gaslighting within one’s own family, and it is difficult to find an acceptable substitute for a family. Most of the time, victims of SSA have to continue living with their family along with the perpetrator of the abuse. The survivor is in a constant state of anxiousness. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and mild Agoraphobia are common in victims of SSA.

Not to mention, I developed a very skewed perception of sex from an extremely young age. I developed a complicated relationship with the physical needs of my body. I was afraid I would display the same tendencies my sister expressed when she had sexual urges. Sex held questionable connotations for me, I started associating it with aberrant behavior as in the case of my sister.

Children brought up in a household where violence – both emotional and physical is normalized, are highly likely to indulge in domestic violence.

I decided to seek therapy to address my apprehensions around sex and eventually also succeeded in shedding the self blame I had carried around for years.

Children brought up in a household where violence – both emotional and physical is normalized, are highly likely to indulge in domestic violence.

Our conversation around sexual abuse also happens to be gendered. The commonplace imageries we associate with abuse involve an adult man inflicting abuse on a woman. Though the gendering of violence is understandable, considering women at any time are more vulnerable to gender-based violence, this assumption around sexual violence is also limiting.

Our understanding of sexual abuse shouldn’t be gender segregated.

Currently, I have zero hope for getting institutional redressal for what I had to endure. And the institutional redressal is only a possibility when we recognize that family, as an institution is not sacred.

When will we start to do that?

Also read: Let’s Talk About Sibling Abuse


This piece has been published anonymously.

Representational Image. Credit: The Mighty

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