Lena Dunham Allegations: How Common is Sibling Sexual Abuse?

Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham

In the past few days, the Internet has exploded in calling “Girls” creator and actress Lena Dunham a sexual abuser. In her memoir “Not That Kind of Girl,” Dunham details pulling apart the lips of her baby sister’s vagina, among other instances.

Whether or not Dunham deserves the abuser label remains to be seen (we haven’t heard anything direct from her sister yet), but it does bring up the question of how common sexual abuse at the hands of siblings is.

Pandora’s Project, a sexual abuse survivors’ resource site, makes the main point that child sexual abuse is, at its core, an imbalance of power between siblings. It notes that around 15% of people report “some sort of sexual activity with a sibling in childhood.” (However, this doesn’t distinguish between healthy curiosity and abuse.) Studies have also shown that between 2% and 4% of people “have been sexually victimized by a sibling as the sexual contact involved some degree of forced or coercive activity.”

Pandora’s Project also defines the age range at which curiosity becomes abuse as “a significant difference in developmental age,” determined as more than three years. In her essay, Dunham was seven years old, and her sister was a one year-old.

Maybe this revelation will start a new conversation on sibling sexual abuse. It’ll be interesting to see if Dunham receives any further backlash from this: She’s already canceled two upcoming European appearances.

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