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Sibling abuse more common than child, domestic abuse combined



– Sibling violence is the most common form of family violence – more prevalent than child abuse and domestic abuse combined – according to new research.

A review of the literature shows that it occurs in anywhere from 42% to 80%-90% of families, according to an abstract by Peter S. Martin, MD, MPH, of the University of Buffalo, New York.

Nearly 50% of siblings engaged in severe violence in the past year, though emotional aggression is more common than is physical aggression, Dr. Martin shared at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.

“Both perpetrators and victims are at risk for poor outcomes,” Dr. Martin wrote, listing distress, low self-esteem, developmental delays, depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders, eating disorders, and suicidality, sometimes reaching into adulthood. Those symptoms typically can be as severe as those experienced by victims of peer bullying, he wrote.

Males involved in sibling violence tend to show more aggression and delinquency, while females experience more difficulties with psychological adjustment, he wrote. Sibling violence also is a predictor for college dating violence.

Siblings – whether biological, half, step, adoptive, foster or even fictive (like chosen family) – spend more time with each other than anyone else growing up. Those relationships provide companionship, support, and opportunities for play and engagement against an adversary, but they remain unique from other family relationships.

Healthy sibling relationships are linked to increased social competence, independence, self-control, companionship, general life skills, support, and overall social, cognitive, and emotional growth, Dr. Martin noted in his abstract.

On the flip side, “unhealthy sibling relationships [are] associated with developing negative externalizing and internalizing behaviors, low self-esteem, and anxiety,” he wrote.

Yet, despite the prevalence of sibling aggression and the commonness of having a sibling in general, studying sibling violence is challenging because neither the academic research nor legal realms have a standardized definition for it.

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