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Sex abuse by siblings is much more common and less understood than parental abuse, a Melbourne conference has been told.
Children are five times more likely to be abused by a brother or sister than by their father, the Australian Institute of Family Studies seminar heard.
Research into what drives young sex offenders to abuse a sibling was also unveiled.
The research found abuse often happened in troubled homes with rivalry between children, family violence and disruptions in who was caring for the children.
University of Melbourne doctoral candidate Jo Hatch conducted the study because she said, much research had focused on less common father-child incest.
She interviewed 55 young men from across Melbourne who were receiving treatment after sexually abusing children during their teenage years.
About half had abused their brother or sister.
Ms Hatch compared the views, family background and social circumstances of those who abused other children outside their home.
Findings of the study, which took in abuse of biological and "step" siblings, included:
YOUNG men who abused siblings often felt their victim was favoured by their father, and they generally had poorer relationships with their parents.
THEY had greater exposure of family violence during their upbringing and many had at least three changes in who was caring for them before the age of 10.
THEY reported feeling more rivalry with their siblings, evident in more dominance and less nuturing treatment.
Ms Hatch said a combination of these factors could "erode a young person's aversion to sexually abusing a sibling".
She said while the abuser was typically an older male, there did not seem to be much difference in sex of the younger victims with brothers and sisters suffering in about equal numbers.
She also tried to break down another common misconception about sexual contact between siblings.
"There is a belief that it is play or experimentation and it is not hurtful, but what we know to be true is that it is quite hurtful...very serious," she said yesterday.
Another key finding was that young people found abusing a sibling were often not charged, most likely because of dilemma faced by parents who would have to launch legal proceedings for one child against the other.

Herald Sun (17-6-2005)
Danny Rose

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