Is This Sexual Abuse?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am wondering if this is sexual abuse. When I was around 5 or 6 I remember being in a tent in the backyard with my 12-15 year old brother and my older sister who was around 7-9. I remember he coaxed my into touching his genitals and he touched mine. I remember my sister was not sure what was going on. It only happened once. However throughout my whole life my brother has been very touchy with me. He always gives me back massages and tends to go down too far so I would jerk slightly. He was never forceful or violent. I remember about 2 years ago, laying on the couch while he gave me a back massage, and he started massaging my bottom. For some reason I could not tell him no, it felt wrong the whole time. I haven’t told anyone about this. Was it sexual abuse?

A: Because of the age difference, your brother was abusing his power and authority as an older person when you were a kid. I hesitate to assign the label of “abuser” to an adolescent who did something once. The fact that he didn’t do it again suggests that he knew it was wrong. It may be that his curiosity got the better of his judgment. This is not to say that his behavior didn’t have an effect on you. It did. He certainly violated your trust. It’s made you wary of him every since.

As a 5-year-old girl, you couldn’t say anything. But at 17, you sure can – and should. You have a right to control how much someone else, even a brother, has access to your body. If you want to have a good relationship with your brother, I suggest you have a talk with him about what happened in the tent and how it has made you feel ever since. Ask for an apology. See how he responds. Don’t let him minimize its effect on you. Set limits on how he can touch you now. Hopefully he’ll respect you for having had the courage to talk to him and the two of you will work things out so you can be more comfortable together.

i wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 27 Mar 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Is This Sexual Abuse?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/03/27/is-this-sexual-abuse/