High Risk Behavior In Victims of Sibling Violence

Sibling Violence

High Risk Behavior Among Victims of Sibling Violence

In this study, authors Button and Gealt (2010) use feminist theory and social learning theory to understand the prevalence of high risk behavior among victims of sibling violence. They follow the recommendations Hoffman et al. (2004, 2005) who argued that feminist theory and social learning theory might be most helpful in understanding sibling violence. They also use the discussion of feminist theory by Liddle (1989) in formulating its definition and relevance to their own study.

Button and Gealt (2010) note that feminist theory can be helpful because it “posits that violence against women is directly connected to the patriarchal organization of society,” and that “men’s use of violence as a mechanism of control, particularly of women, is supported and maintained by the structural organization of society” (p. 133). According to feminist theory, traditional gender roles normalize patriarchal assumption suggesting that men are in the position of power and control and they resort to violence when they experience powerlessness because the use of violence allows them to reestablish their dominance. Button and Gealt also theorize that younger siblings and females, due to lack of physical strength, are more likely to be victimized by other siblings.

“Social learning theory,” according to Button and Gealt (2010), “contends that behavior is learned through imitation and reinforcement, leading to a series of definitions favorable to the behavior . . . . As with feminist theory, the social learning paradigm argues that because violence is reward with compliance and dominance, those who engage in violence and aggression internalize and utlize the advantages of such methods” (p. 134). This theory also suggests that children learn by observing violence in their surroundings (parents, other siblings, in the street, school, etc.) and imitate the behavior because of the assumption that the use of violence allows them to take advantage of such methods. The learning theory therefore posits that children who experience other forms of violence are more likely to be victims or perpetrators of sibling violence.

The purpose of the study, as outlined by the authors, is four-fold: to estimate the prevalence of sibling abuse, investigate the relationship between sibling abuse and high risk behaviors (substance abuse, aggression, and delinquency), examine the interplay between sibling abuse and other forms of familial abuse in predicting high risk behaviors, and test feminist and social learning theories. The authors note that most of the recent academic work on familial violence focused on parent-child and intimate partner relationships. Some researchers began to pay attention to violence against the elderly, but sibling violence, despite being well-documented “as the most common form of intrafamilial abuse . . . has been largely overlooked from an academic, research perspective, as well as from a social and legal standpoint” (Button & Gealt, 2010, p. 131).

Sibling violence takes three forms: psychological, physical, and sexual. The authors in this study investigate only psychological and physical abuse. Psychological violence usually makes an emotional harm to the victim, and includes ridiculing, belittling, conveying contempt, or stripping the victim of his or her self-worth. In some cases, it may include destruction of possessions and even killing of pets loved by the victim. Physical violence is a form of aggressive behavior such as pushing, shoving, hitting, kicking, or slapping. In rare cases, it includes the use of objects such as hoses or hangers and weapons such as scissors, knives, razor blades, broken glass, and guns. The authors do not indicate why they decided to exclude sexual violence from their study.

In their analysis, Button and Gealt (2010) use several variables independently. These are: substance abuse, delinquency, aggression, and sibling violence. To measure independent variables, they used several dependant variables for each. For example, to measure substance abuse (which refers to the use of cigarettes, marijuana, and alcohol in the past thirty days), they asked respondents to indicate frequency of abuse, ranging from 0 to 31 times during thirty-day period (0 = none, 1 = less than one, 2 = 1 to 5, etc.). To measure delinquency, they scaled the frequency of six items that ranged from never to almost every day (0 = never, 1 = before but not in the past, up to 7 = almost every day). These items were: stealing something from a store without paying for it; breaking into a car, house, or other building; cheating on a test; sneaking money from an adult’s wallet, purpose, or other place; damaging or destroying property that does not belong to them; and skipping or missing classes without permission. And to measure aggression, the authors asked respondents to indicate if they had hit someone with the intention of hurting them in the past month. Independent variables in this equation were 0 = no, and 1 = yes.

The authors measured sibling aggression by asking respondents to indicate if a sibling had experienced any of the following in the past month: verbal abuse; threats (psychological abuse), shoving, pushing, or slapping; fights — punching, kicking; and fights with the threat of weapon use (physical abuse). They used six scales to measure the frequency and also dichotomized the scales to indicate if a sibling had experience any of such abuses (0 = no, 1 = yes). They used Age as a categorical variable (12 years and younger and 19 years and older). Gender was used as a self-reported dichotomous variable (1 = male, 2 = female). Finally, they asked respondents questions about the occurrences and frequency of child maltreatment and domestic violence they witnessed.

The study used data coming from a sample of Delaware public school students. The survey is based on a census of all eighth and eleventh grade students of all public schools within the state of Delaware. Button and Gealt (2010) used data from the year 2007 school year. They collected data for all students but used sample for students who had a sibling living with them. In total, data for 8,122 students (4,549 eighth grade students and 3,574 eleventh grade students) was used in the study. They also identified the racial category of respondents but the results from that category sample were not analyzed. The data collection was in general comprehensive and the methods used were sophisticated, but there are certain limitations of the study. The authors acknowledge some of them, while others are ignored.


Button, D., & Gealt, R. (2010). High Risk Behaviors Among Victims of Sibling Violence. Journal of Family Violence, 25(2), 131-140. doi:10.1007/s10896-009-9276-x

Hoffman, K.L., & Edwards, J.N. (2004). An Integrated Theoretical Model of Sibling Violence and Abuse. Journal of Family Violence, 19(3), 185-200.

Hoffman, K.L., Kiecolt, K., & Edwards, J.N. (2005). Physical Violence Between Siblings: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis. Journal of Family Issues, 26(8), 1103-1130. doi:10.1177/0192513X05277809

Liddle, a. (1989). Feminist contributions to an understanding of violence against women: Three steps forward, two steps back. Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 26(5), 759-775.

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