Why is nobody talking about sibling abuse

Signals and consequences of sexual abuse of children and adolescents

The diagnosis shows the problem that there is little knowledge about the sexual development of children or their sexual knowledge. However, this knowledge would be important in order to be able to clearly evaluate behavior or an action, for example. Basically, the consequences of sexual abuse are important in two ways: indications of sexual abuse can be identified from the immediate consequences, while indications of necessary interventions result from the longer-term consequences (cf. Engfer 1998, p. 1012). Up until the eighties of the last century, the opinion was still held that sexual assault had no serious consequences for those affected, whereas today it is undisputed that experiences of sexual violence have a damaging effect on personal development. American studies have shown that up to 40% of the victims have direct consequences in the form of abnormal behavior and sometimes massive psychological impairments. Inappropriate responses to exposure or hasty interventions can result in secondary trauma to victims.

This is inseparable from the experience of sexual abuse Not being able to talk about it (and may) linked. Silence is the top priority, especially when it comes to sexual abuse within the family. As much as the children want it to be, they cannot talk about it. The perpetrator's threat to beat or even kill them is not uncommon, but is often not necessary. The child is used to obeying because of the authority of the adult. At the beginning of the abuse, they may be confused, think they were wrong and that this will not happen again. The child feels complicit, a feeling that the perpetrator often encourages to the best of his ability. He may say the girl is so sexy that he can't hold back; she was bad and deserved it; she really wanted it too; all fathers did this to their daughters because they loved them. The girl has no information about the occurrence of the abuse, she then often believes that she is the only one to whom it happens. He begins to doubt his own feelings and his perception, because the father must be right. In addition, little girls also know very well that the existence of the family depends on them. The perpetrator might paint it for them: Dad in prison, himself and the siblings in the home. Mom penniless and alone. Above all, the mother must be spared. She shouldn't be disappointed and sad, her love shouldn't be lost. It may also be that the girl experiences the mother as weak and subordinate and does not expect any help from her. According to Kavemann and Lohstötter (1989), these girls often develop an incredible strength to take responsibility for the entire family. This responsibility often includes enduring sexual violence in order to protect younger sisters. The web that spins the children and ensures their silence is tightly meshed. Fear, shame, guilt, threats, extortion, bribery, lies, disbelief, consideration for family and silence all make it worse. No prospect of an end to the abuse, increase in sexual violence and the certainty of being helpless and powerless. If the victims dare to break the silence, they often encounter disbelief, rejection, accusations or even insults from all sides ("Lolita"), but children tell the truth when they report sexual abuse (after Braun 1991) .

One reason why victims of abuse often have a complicity Looking at oneself is also due to the fact that a complete loss of control over such a situation is in some cases hardly or very difficult to cope with for the human psyche. That is why victims sometimes tell themselves that it was partly their own will. Children in particular cannot cope with clearly blaming the perpetrators, because parents or other adults are always right for them, no matter what they do, i. that is, the legality of their conduct is seldom called into question.

Clear physical symptoms and injuries such as welts, bite wounds, bruises, injuries in the anal and genital areas etc. are often missing, but there is often no clear syndrome of sexual abuse in the psychological area either. A British study showed that two thirds of the children with suspected sexual abuse do not have any physical injuries (cf. Bange & Deegener 1996, p. 78). There are roughly two groups of signs:

  • Verbal signals: A child tells or makes hints to a person in whom they have great trust (e.g. mother, relatives, teacher, etc.). Often these hints are quite timid because the child is not sure what happened to him. Of course, the children often have difficulty wording when they want to talk about what they have experienced. As a result, it then depends on the person of trust whether the abuse is discovered or can be ended (cf. BM f. Environment, Youth and Family 1993, p. 49ff).
  • Averbal signals: Should the child fail in trying to make himself heard for the problem, he will send signals to draw attention to the abuse. Such signals are changes in behavior and behaviors that people in the vicinity usually also notice. This is the point where the responsibility of everyone who has to do with the child begins (e.g. relatives, acquaintances, kindergarten teachers, teachers, social workers, etc.). Some signals are, for example, school difficulties, improvement in school performance to compensate, telling unlikely stories about home, self-destruction such as biting your nails, making yourself ugly, attempting suicide, bed-wetting, compulsive washing, not wanting to show your body, running away from home, eating problems etc. ( see BM f. Environment, Youth and Family 1993, p. 52 f).

Symbolic expression of the abuse and verbal allusions are according to Streicher-Pehböck & Winkler-Kirchberger (2000):

  • Noticeably attracted to dirt, mud and paste;
  • Repeated questions on sexual issues, although long since it has been cleared up and received answers;
  • it reenacts abuse with dolls in role-playing games or destroys and tears a doll in the sexual area;
  • it begins to stutter or stammer every time it tries to tell something about itself and its feelings;
  • it has drawings of naked women, shows them or tells them that they saw a porn movie;
  • it tells that his papa sleeps in the nursery;
  • he says that milk flows from the penis of grandpa;
  • it tells that his papa goes to bed at night;
  • it tells that at night a dark ghost often comes, takes the blanket from it and touches it;
  • Escape into a fantasy world ("I just dreamed myself away, otherwise I couldn't have endured it");
  • Special position in the family: Favorite daughter, who receives many presents from her father, or the girls take on responsibility for household and care obligations at an early age.

Concerning the immediate consequences of sexual abuse the mental development of the child's knowledge of sexuality. Research has shown that less than 5% of the children surveyed between the ages of 2 and 6 can adequately label the reproductive organs. 90% had no knowledge of adult sexual intercourse at all. It can therefore be relevant for the diagnosis of sexual abuse if children under 6 years of age have such knowledge. However, it does not always have to mean that children acquired their knowledge through abuse of their own. The gaming behavior of abused and non-abused children playing with anatomically correct dolls does not differ as clearly as one might think. Certain behaviors can occur in both abused and non-abused children. It can therefore not be conclusively inferred from a corresponding gambling behavior that there has been sexual abuse. Not all abused children let the abuse in Children's drawings detect. It also happens that children who have not been abused also draw genitals. The diagnostic means of children's drawings is therefore usually not clear. A spontaneous report of a child is one of the most reliable indicators of sexual abuse. In the case of younger children, the report is often not very detailed but still highly valid, but older children often withhold the experience of sexual abuse out of shame or fear. Abused children show one higher symptom burden in the areas of fear, depression, aggression, loneliness, feelings of inferiority, inability to trust other people, homosexual tendencies, suicidal tendencies, internalizing, externalizing and sexualized behavior. The burden of symptoms sometimes decreases with the distance from sexual abuse, while aggression and sexualised behavior become more serious (cf. Engfer 1998, p. 1012ff).

The respective behavioral symptoms are often age-dependent (cf. Engfer 1998, p. 1013):

  • Abused children between 0 and 6 years of age mainly show fears, nightmares, regressions, internalizing and sexualized behavior.
  • Abused children between the ages of 7 and 12 often suffer from fears, nightmares, school problems or show immature, hyperactive or even aggressive behavior.
  • Between the ages of 13 and 18, children often suffer from depression, social withdrawal, suicidal tendencies, running away or alcohol / drug abuse.

According to Kramer (1990), some are abused in childhood no memory available as such, or it is only partially available, for example as "somatic memories"lead to the trauma and to current sensations such as anxiety, fear, anger and lust. Brenneis (1994) reports that a certain smell in the office always triggered fear in a patient. During the course of therapy she associates it with alcohol and later also with men And much later, she remembers being abused by her drunken father, who bore a certain resemblance to her boss. In the case of trauma, the emphasis must therefore not only be on external reality, but always on the psychological experience and the phantasies are taken into account. It is precisely with these points of view that we come up against limits in empirical studies.

The studies by Patrick McGowan et al. (McGill University, Montreal), child abuse in victims can still die years later Signal transmission in the brain because a protein that reacts to stress signals is present in significantly lower quantities in victims of violence than in people who were not abused as children. The researchers analyzed the cells of the hippocampus, one of the oldest structures in the brain in evolutionary terms, in which short-term memories are transferred to long-term memory. Significantly fewer copies of the receptor mRNA were found in people who had been abused as children than in those suicide victims who had not experienced any violence. The researchers conclude that significantly fewer receptors were formed in the brain of the victim of abuse.
source: http://www.nature.com/natureneuroscience/ (09-02-22)

An important factor for that Coping with Abuse is a loving and supportive family or professional helpers. Coping is more successful if the victim is not complicit in the abuse or if the responsibility is exclusively attributed to the perpetrator. If ambivalent feelings are involved, processing is more difficult (cf. Engfer 1998, p. 1014). One of the most important aids for the child is to work through the feelings of guilt and to make it credible to him that he is not to blame for the abuse, that he could not have prevented the abuse, that it is understandable, for example, why he was silent for so long, for example is not responsible for the dissolution of the family (cf. Dutter et al. 1993, p. 17).

The results of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study (Felitti 2002) clearly show that psychosocial stress factors in childhood can have lifelong consequences. This study is the in-depth follow-up of over 17,000 American adults who correlated their current state of health with stressful childhood factors that averaged half a century earlier. A central result of the study was that stressful childhood experiences (abuse categories included, among others, repeated physical abuse, repeated emotional abuse and sexual abuse) still have profound consequences fifty years later, whereby these psychosocial experiences have meanwhile turned into a physical illness. Patients with an ACE score of four or more are 460% more likely to develop depression than those with an ACE score of zero. There was also a 1220% increased likelihood of a suicide attempt among these two groups! With higher ACE values, the frequency of suicide attempts also increases 30 to 51 times (Dube et al. 2001). Using the statistical method of population risk distribution, it was found that between a third and 80% of all suicide attempts were due to the psychosocial stress factors of childhood (Felitti 2002).annotation: Vincent Felitti conducted this research for a large American insurance company that wanted more information about which people should not be insured in order to reduce costs. The scientific question was therefore: who gets sick and who doesn't?


"Do not get into someone else's car", "dress properly", "do not go into the forest alone", "do not go with a stranger", "do not open the door when you are alone "," Don't take chocolate from a stranger's uncle "," Be home before dark "These are the warnings that most girls and boys grow up with. Conventional prevention gives wrong information and not security. It leads to avoidance behavior, fear, restriction of freedom of movement and independence, intensification of the dependency on the parents.

Conventional prevention practically prepares the ground for abuse, because misinformed, insecure, adapted and dependent children are ideal victims. Meaningful prevention, on the other hand, must make children strong, enable them to recognize and classify sexual assaults and to defend themselves against it, that is, to protect themselves.

Prevention must build children's strengths, promote children's independence, expand children's mobility and increase children's freedom. Prevention must by no means create fear, because fear creates weakness, fear paralyzes. Fear arises from feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. We have to give the children the knowledge of their strengths and options for action, because "knowledge is power".

Fey (1988) describes five subject areas as central to preventive upbringing:

  • My body is mine Your own body is valuable, every child has the right to protect it.
  • Intuition: The yardstick for girls and boys is their own feelings; "I can rely on my feelings".
  • Touches: Children learn to differentiate between "good" and "bad" as well as "strange" touches and to reject the latter two.
  • Saying no: Children can and must draw boundaries in certain situations and say no to the requirements of adults. You have permission to disobey and fight back.
  • Secrets: Children learn to distinguish adequate secrets, such as surprises, from bad, frightening secrets. When secrets get scary, it's better to share with friends and / or adults.

From these principles it follows that meaningful prevention is never limited to punctual warnings, but is always an educational attitude that works continuously. This means that preventive aspects must be integrated into the overall education. Children should be empowered in the areas listed above without having to address violent sexual assault directly. This prevents children from growing up feeling that sexuality and violence belong together and thus develop a negative understanding of sexuality.In addition to the preventive effect, this has another effect: the affected children feel spoken to, they may be given the courage to defend themselves against sexual assault, and they may be given perspectives for action. At least they realize that there are adults out there who are aware of the problem. Games, stories, picture books, songs, etc. can be the occasion for conversation, creating an atmosphere of openness that encourages affected children to confide in.

Physical Effects of Maternal Sexual Abuse

According to König et al. (2018) leave traumatic and disturbing experiences at a young age, such as being abused, beaten, tormented or neglected by parents, not only lasting traces in the psyche, but also found a place
biochemical fingerprint due to such stressful childhood experiences. If children are sexually abused or emotionally abused, if they are beaten or neglected, this leads to chronic stress levels, whereby the chronic stress produced in this way also increases the risk of further illnesses. Molecular stress signals and their biological effects play a key role in this, with permanent or extreme stress triggered by critical and stressful life situations in the body forming free radical compounds that damage the cell in the form of oxidative stress. The study also showed that the energy and phospholipid metabolism changes and that chronic low-threshold inflammatory processes also occur more frequently. After analyzing the blood serum of young mothers, about half of whom had had traumatic experiences in childhood, eight metabolic products were found, the levels of which differed significantly in the two groups. These metabolic products are related to the cellular energy metabolism as well as to inflammatory processes and oxidative stress. These included phospholipids and substances from the endocannabinoid family or breakdown products of hemoglobin, an endogenous antioxidant. Based on the biomarker signature, it was possible to determine with almost ninety percent accuracy whether these women had been abused, abused or neglected as children. For the women affected, this means that they have an increased risk of becoming mentally ill at some point in their life or of developing a disease that usually occurs at a slightly older age. At the same time, it is assumed that certain lifestyle factors can have a positive moderating effect.


König, Alexandra M., Karabatsiakis, Alexander, Stoll, Thomas, Wilker, Sarah, Hennessy, Thomas, Hill, Michelle M. & Kolassa, Iris-Tatjana (2018). Serum profile changes in postpartum women with a history of childhood maltreatment: a combined metabolite and lipid fingerprinting study. Scientific Reports, 8.
http://www.psychologie-aktuell.com/news/aktuelle-news-psychologie/news-lesen/article/1522602224-wunden-aus-der-kindheit-biochemischer-fingerabdruck-WEIS-auf-haben-erfahrungen-hi. html (18-04-25)


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