Sibling Violence

Sibling ViolenceDefinition

  • Sibling violence or abuse occurs when one member of the sibling dyad intentionally causes psychological or physical harm, injury, or death to a brother or sister.
  • The range of behaviors includes humiliating, threatening or terrorizing, pushing, hitting, kicking, beating or using weapons. The repeated pattern of the acts is what defines the behavior as sibling abuse.


  • Sibling violence may be one of the most frequently occurring forms of family violence in the United States
  • Sibling violence is one of the most underreported and least understood forms of family violence
  • Past research focuses on physical violence, suggesting that 82% of children engaged in one violent act towards a sibling in the preceding year. 88% of males and 94% of females were victims of sibling violence in the preceding year
  • Αge is inversely related to the incidence of sibling violence: as children develop better verbal skills the need to use violence decreases
  • Siblings closer in age report more violence than those spaced further apart
  • Male/male siblings experience the most violence and the most severe physical violence.4
  • Parent to child violence is a more robust predictor of sibling violence than parent to parent violence
  • Mother to child violence is less predictive of sibling violence than father to child violence
  • Sibling violence is a statistically significant predictor of dating violence


Problems most often reported by adults with childhood histories of negative sibling interactions include the following:
  • difficulty with relationships: mistrust, suspiciousness, fearfulness, hateful feelings, problems relating, inability to form intimate relationships, troubled parent-child relationships; poor peer relationships; aversion to nonsexual physical contact, revictimization in subsequent relationships
  • negative emotions: self-blame, depression, anxiety, anger, low self-esteem
  • sexual dysfunction: avoidance of sexual contact, sexual compulsiveness, promiscuity, sexual response difficulties
  • posttraumatic stress symptoms: intrusive thoughts, flashbacks


  1. Coulter, M.L. (2005, May 21). Child Neglect, Sibling Violence and Abuse of the Disabled Lecture. University of South Florida College of Public Health.
  2. Caffaro, J.V., & Conn-Caffaro, A. (1998). Sibling abuse trauma : assessment and intervention strategies for children, families, and adults. New York : Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press.
  3. Steinmetz, S.K. (1977). The cycle of violence : assertive, aggressive, and abusive family interaction. New York : Praeger.
  4. Noland, V.J., Liller, K.D., McDermott, R.J., Coulter, M.L. & Seraphine, A.E. (2004). Is adolescent sibling violence a precursor to college dating violence? American Journal of Health Behavior, 28(1): S13-23.
  5. Barnett, O.W., Miller-Perrin, C.L., & Perrin, R.D. (2005). Family violence across the lifespan: An introduction. Second edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications