The normalization of sibling violence: does gender and personal experience of violence influence perceptions of physical assault against siblings?

J Interpers Violence. 2015 Feb;30(3):437-58. doi: 10.1177/0886260514535095. Epub 2014 Jun 11.


Despite its pervasive and detrimental nature, sibling violence (SV) remains marginalized as a harmless and inconsequential form of familial aggression. The present study investigates the extent to which perceptions of SV differ from those of other types of interpersonal violence. A total of 605 respondents (197 males, 408 females) read one of four hypothetical physical assault scenarios that varied according to perpetrator-victim relationship type (i.e., sibling vs. dating partner vs. peer vs. stranger) before completing a series of 24 attribution items. Respondents also reported on their own experiences of interpersonal violence during childhood. Exploratory factor analysis reduced 23 attribution items to three internally reliable factors reflecting perceived assault severity, victim culpability, and victim resistance ratings. A 4 × 2 MANCOVA-controlling for respondent age-revealed several significant effects. Overall, males deemed the assault less severe and the victim more culpable than did females. In addition, the sibling assault was deemed less severe compared to assault on either a dating partner or a stranger, with the victim of SV rated just as culpable as the victim of dating, peer, or stranger-perpetrated violence. Finally, respondents with more (frequent) experiences of childhood SV victimization perceived the hypothetical SV assault as being less severe, and victim more culpable, than respondents with no SV victimization. Results are discussed in the context of SV normalization. Methodological limitations and applications for current findings are also outlined.

Keywords: family; gender; normalization; perpetrator; sibling; victim; violence.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Factors
  • Sibling Relations*
  • Violence / psychology*
  • Young Adult