Brothers and sisters of children who experienced child sexual abuse are to be part of a ground-breaking national study by academics.
Siblings have been described as the “hidden group” of child sexual abuse because very little is known about them.
The study is led by Dr Rosaleen McElvaney and Dr Simon Dunne at Dublin City University and is the first of its kind in Ireland.
Small sample one-off studies have shown that siblings who learn of the sexual abuse of their own brother or sister find it difficult to cope.
Their image of a normal family environment is shattered and they often experience guilt, anger and despair.
Dr McElvaney is a clinical psychologist who has worked in the public health services in Ireland for many years, mostly in services for children or adults who have experienced sexual abuse.
She believes the impact of disclosures of child sexual abuse on the siblings of children who have experienced such abuse needs to be better understood.
Siblings of children who have been sexually abused were a neglected population, she said.
“One in four to one in five people in Ireland have experienced some form of sexual abuse. That's a lot of people," said Dr McElvaney.
"We need some reliable data on both the nature and the extent of the impact of child sexual abuse on family relationships so that we know how best to respond to these families.
“Whether the abuse happens within the family – a family member, or by someone outside the family, it does have an impact on other siblings."
There were some positive stories because sometimes siblings do find that their relationships improved after learning of the sexual abuse of their brother or sister.
Sometimes it helped to make sense of why their sibling had been behaving in a particular way and that better understanding brought them closer together.
Dr McElvaney said they were hoping that at least 200 adults will take part in the study.
They wanted participants to describe what their relationship was with their brother or sister before and after they discovered they had been sexually abused.
They also wanted to find out how people responded to the disclosure and to describe how it had affected their lives.
“It is really looking at how child sexual abuse has impacted on family relationships,” she said.
Prof McElvaney said they would be publishing the research. They were aiming to have the data gathered and analysed by September.
The study's findings will be used to inform policy, advocacy and support services.
Dr Dunne said those completing the national survey will be allowing their voice to be heard on these issues and what can be done to address their support needs in the future.