Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Family Dynamics

Sibling Incest in the News

Treatment options for sibling incest.

Source: Stock photo © STEFANOLUNARDI

Having worked in the child sexual abuse field for 30 some years, I am continually struck with a sense of sadness when yet another family comes forward with admissions of sibling sexual abuse. Rather than judgment it is important to be aware of treatment and healing options. Jumping to quick labeling without understanding the help needed is dangerous. Child Molester! Hang Em! Life Over! That’s missing the point. Remember people are human and in sibling incest cases they are family and usually love each other. They are also children or teens.

Thankfully, the field of child sexual abuse has come a long way and treatment protocols have been established. Many families have worked through the sequential treatment protocol and have been reunited and this can be very successful if followed. The key factor is gaining trained professionals who work together as a team to help each family member through the process. Here’s the sequence:

  • Report is made that sibling sexual abuse has occurred in a family.
  • An investigation takes place which includes a forensic interview of the alleged victims. This is conducted by social services and law enforcement.
  • The alleged offender may also be interviewed by law enforcement.
  • A determination is made whether the allegations are founded or not and whether or not to press criminal charges.
  • If it is determined unfounded, the family members are encouraged to attend therapy to assess the cause of the allegations and help the family heal.
  • If it is determined that the allegations are founded, and the offender is of a certain age, usually criminal charges are pressed so there is leverage for the proper treatment. This can be important so families don’t run and hide or stay in denial and therefore don’t get the help that is badly needed. Sexually acting out in young offenders will usually continue without treatment.
  • The victim or victims are put into therapy with trained professionals who specialize in child sexual abuse and understand sibling incest dynamics.
  • The offender is sent to offense specific treatment to specifically address the sexual acting out, and in this process are taught to control sexual impulses and heal from whatever caused the disorder. Many times young offenders have also been victims of sexual abuse themselves and this also needs to be treated after the sexual acting out is treated first. If this is the case, it is important to do this in the right order. Sexual acting out has to stop first and then the next steps if needed.
  • The parents are sent to therapy to assist with their devastation of having both an offender and a victim in their line of children. How the parents eventually cope and are able to parent all children with empathy is a key ingredient to success but often they need guidance to do this.
  • When the victim or victims are through their individual therapy process, and the offender has also completed treatment, the therapists discuss if it is appropriate to take the next steps for the family. This determination is usually heavily influenced by what the victim or victim’s desire and when they are ready. It is also influenced by the offender’s successful treatment.
  • During the time of the individual treatment for each member of the family, the offender is usually taken out of the home to live elsewhere and hopefully with some other family members who can be supportive. This is the best scenario but sometimes foster homes are used or the parents split into two households so there is one parent with the children whether they are the offender or the victims. We see parents sometimes getting a separate and additional apartment to accommodate this temporary living situation.
  • When the time is determined by the victim and the professionals and if the family wishes to reunite, the next step is clarification. Clarification sessions are conducted by the victim’s therapist and the offender’s therapist and are for the victim to meet with the offender. In this session or sessions, the victim has the opportunity to discuss how the abuse affected him or her and discuss feelings related to the abuse. It is the offender’s goal to listen, give empathy and allow for this discussion to happen without defensiveness or rationalization. The offender gets an opportunity to be accountable.
  • If the clarification sessions are successful, the family then moves to re-unification which means family therapy for all together. These sessions are used to discuss how the sexual abuse has affected the whole family, to teach boundaries about proper touch, to set new rules for privacy and respect in the family structure. Re-unification sessions are conducted until the family and the professionals determine that the family is safe to re-unite.
  • When the family is ready to re-unite, the offender is transitioned into the family in slow sequential segments beginning with something like an afternoon together, then a whole day, then eventually an overnight, then a weekend, etc…until it is full-time. This helps to assure that everyone is on board with all the new rules and respect for boundaries in the family. Often after each visit, family therapy will occur for the family to discuss progress or any problems that result.

The true beauty of this protocol is professionals working together as a team for the family. The professionals typically stay in touch with proper releases from the family so they can monitor the progress of each member. Often if this protocol is followed the young offender will be given a deferred prosecution and if successful in treatment the charges are dropped. It is truly a therapeutic and healing journey for the family rather than one that involves the courts and punishment.

In my practice, I have also worked extensively with young children, under the age of 10 who are sexually acting out. Often they have been abused themselves. They can be treated and the sexual impulses can be stopped at a very early age. Each state may be somewhat different in their guidelines for what age a child can be charged for sexual misconduct. In Colorado a child can actually be charged at the young age of 10. If under the age of 10, children are sent to professionals who specialize in treating children who sexually act out. If over the age of 10, the family is encouraged to follow the above procedures.

Because there is a better way than judgment or denial and I have seen so many families successfully complete this healing journey and reunite, I submit this blog post to hopefully reach out to other families who are suffering and to those who don’t understand that healing can happen with the proper therapeutic interventions.

The following statistics are offered here and were gathered from the Darkness to Light website about young offenders. Please see their website link below:

FACT: As many as 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by older, or more powerful children.

  • The younger the child victim, the more likely it is that the perpetrator is a juvenile. Juveniles are the offenders in 43% of assaults on children under age six. Of these offenders, 14% are under age 12.
  • Juveniles who commit sex offenses against other children are more likely than adult sex offenders to offend in groups, to offend at schools, and to have more male victims and younger victims.
  • The number of youth coming to the attention of police for sex offenses increases sharply at age 12 and plateaus after age 14. Early adolescence is the peak age for youth offenses against younger children.
  • A small number of juvenile offenders - one out of eight - are younger than age 12. Females constitute 7% of juveniles who commit sex offenses.

FACT: Most adolescent sex offenders are not sexual predators and will not go on to become adult offenders.

  • Most adolescent offenders do not meet the criteria for pedophilia and do not continue to exhibit sexually predatory behaviors.

Adolescent sex offenders are more responsive to treatment than adults. They do not appear to continue to re-offend into adulthood, especially when provided with appropriate treatment.


Additional Resources by the Author:

Published Books + Audio Versions:



Social Media:

Take A Survey: