Q. I was sexually abused by an older brother for 9 years between the ages of 8 and 17. He was 4.5 years older. Although I was in therapy many years, this question still bothers me and no one has seemed to be able to answer it. I think it is that that they did not want me to feel responsible. But I need to know. First, though my brother was 13 when he started abusing me, what would cause him to do this? If he abuses someone that for that long (9 years is a very long time), is there some pathology or disorder? Could he still have it and abuse someone else? I know there could be a range of answers probably but looking for guidance as to what those may be. My family knows this happened but refused to believe it, blaming me instead, and this I have honestly finally accepted. It is not discussed in my family at all and his wife does not know. He has two daughters now and I worry about them or if he could have abused or will abuse someone else by my keeping quiet about it. So I guess I want to know if my continued silence is endangering anyone else. Or was this just experimentation gone horribly wrong and I can expect it was only me.
A. This is an extremely difficult question to answer. There many possibilities none of which you or I could know the answer to for sure. Many people who do abuse others were themselves once abused. It is possible, and highly likely, that your brother was abused by someone else or a family member and this is why he abused you. Having been abused does not necessarily mean that one will go on to abuse others, but it does increase the risk that the abused will begin to abuse others. I cannot say if your brother has a disorder per say but because I am not familiar with his background and history. I do know that there are no specific mental health disorders in which the capacity to abuse is a symptom. Additionally, I do not think that your brother’s abuse towards you was an experiment gone wrong. He simply is an abuser and the reasons he became an abuser are difficult to know.
With regard to your concern about his children, I do think your concerns may be warranted. You are a survivor of his horrific actions. You experienced first hand what your brother was capable of. Breaking your silence is a tricky issue since you have no way of knowing if your brother would abuse his own children. I do think that he may be more likely to inflict abuse upon his children since he does have a long history of this type of behavior. Alternatively, he may have gotten treatment to deal with the issue or would never harm his children in this manner. I do not think that breaking your silence at this time is the correct action unless you suspect his children may be being abused. As I mentioned earlier, your brother may have gotten treatment or would never abuse his children. If the two latter possibilities are true in this situation and you bring the past abuse by your brother to his wife’s attention, you could start a horrible family battle, one in which may end in divorce or the separation of his family. The best advice that I can give is for you to pay attention to the behavior of his children and his relationship with them. If you see your brother behaving in a way that you recognize to be related to abuse then consider breaking your silence. I am sorry that I could not provide you with a more concise, black and white answer but there are no easy answers in this situation. It is an extremely complex situation. Please write again if you have any more questions.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Apr 2007
Randle, K. (2008). Brother sexually abused me: Do I reveal this in an attempt to stop further abuse?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 8, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2007/04/02/brother-sexually-abused-me-do-i-reveal-this-in-an-attempt-to-stop-further-abuse/