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Sibling abuse is the physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse of one sibling by another.

It is estimated[1] that as many as 3% of children are dangerously abusive towards a sibling, making sibling abuse more common than child abuse by parents, and more common than spousal abuse.

There are delicate lines between sibling rivalry and sibling abuse, such that many abuse cases are discounted and ignored under the label of normal and healthy competition.[2] Sibling abuse is extreme, traumatizing and pathological physical or psychological abuse by one sibling (usually older or larger) onto the other. In contrast, sibling rivalry, even in its most pronounced form, is a common and solvable problem which is rarely damaging to a child and is often dealt with through parental supervision and intervention. Sibling abuse is significantly more likely to occur in dysfunctional, neglectful and/or abusive homes, and often reflects a lack of appropriate boundaries and discipline on the part of the parents.[3]

It is generally rare for the police to get involved in cases of sibling abuse, particularly if both parties are under the age of 15, and usually parental intervention is most recommended.

Sibling abuse has only relatively recently become the subject of serious clinical study and concern.[4] Because children are thought to be in a position of significantly less power than a parent or guardian and therefore less capable of abuse, the idea of sibling abuse was only acknowledged to exist in the last few years. It is far less recognized than spousal or child abuse and considered less dangerous, although siblings who are a great dealer larger and older than their younger counterparts may in fact be capable of lethal violence towards their victims.[5]

Media portrayals of sibling abuse

The 1991 made-for-TV movie "My Son, Johnny" is a rare fictionalized portrayal of sibling abuse.[6]

The film stars Corin Nemec as a teenager victimized by his older brother, Johnny, played by Rick Schroder. The film was inspired by the real-life case of Philadelphia 15-year-old Michael Lombardo, tried and acquitted for the 1985 for killing his nineteen-year-old brother Francis "Frankie" Lombardo.


Further reading

  • Wiehe, Vernon R. What Parents Need to Know About Sibling Abuse: Breaking the Cycle of Violence (2002)

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