Sibling abuse a deep, dark secret many families hide

The writer states that sibling abuse is not talked about or recognised.
The writer states that sibling abuse is not talked about or recognised.
Image: 123RF/ nito500

Domestic violence is such an ugly thing.

The tragic and senseless killing of Nomsa Maduna in Soweto, allegedly by her former lover, again highlighted the seriousness and condensed complexities observed in this type of gender-related violence.

South Africa has one of the highest incidences of domestic violence in the world. Every day, women face physical abuse among other violent crimes.

Regrettably, most people are unaware that domestic violence not only occurs within intimate relationships, but may also occur between siblings where, for example, a brother violently attacks his younger sister, over and over. This happened to a friend, let's call her Kananelo.

Despite sibling violence being a common form of domestic violence, researchers label sibling abuse as a very controversial area of domestic violence, which remains under-researched.

Siblings may bicker and occasionally trade blows over their favorite toys, as well as their parents' love and attention. This is normal. However, my friend Kananelo describes the sibling violence she was subjected to by her brother, who is six years her senior, as anything but normal.

Kananelo can still recall the first time her brother violently beat her up. She was only 15 years old at the time. On returning from school, Kananelo found her brother's girlfriend wearing her favourite T-shirt. Her biggest mistake was to voice her disapproval.

He told her that she was just a child and needed to shut up. Besides, it was no big deal. She insisted that the girlfriend take off the T-shirt immediately. The brother then punched her in the face.

Kananelo called the police and they arrived at the same time as her mother. Kananelo wanted to press charges, but because she was a minor, her mother had to do so on her behalf. But her mother refused. She instead told the officers that she would resolve the matter and seek counsel from her brothers. She assured the police that this type of incident would never take place again. However, the beatings and verbal abuse worsened over the years.

As Kananelo became older, whenever the assaults took place, she would feel motivated to press charges, but would be convinced otherwise by family.

That was until recently, when he viciously attacked her, shattering her laptop on her head.

Kananelo finally had enough. That day he was arrested for malicious damage to property and assault. She would not back down this time, because she realised that her brother would kill her someday if this persisted.

Interestingly, it was only on facing that serious beating that she finally realised that she was a victim of domestic violence. All along she thought that domestic violence only happened between partners in intimate relationships.

Domestic violence expert at the University of Buckingham, Dr Sue Edwards, said that there are many abusive brothers and sisters, labelling this form of domestic violence as "a deep, dark secret". She found that it was not surprising that society does not know about this form of domestic violence, questioning what voice a child really has.

Parents and family tend to minimise the significance of such abuse, not recognising it as domestic violence, particularly when siblings are younger. However, given our societal issues, it is important that we teach men not to lay their hands on anyone from a very young age.

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