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Our Language

The Words We Use & Why

Sibling sexual behavior, harm, trauma, abuse, assault... these words encompass an extensive range of possible experiences and circumstances. No single umbrella term can describe it accurately to everyone.  As the world finally begins to speak of this reality, language is still evolving. At 5WAVES we regularly discuss and ponder our, use of language in regard to sibling sexual trauma and abuse. Our values guide our choice of language, and our current choices are described below. For a deeper discussion, see our blog, What to Call It: Words Matter.  

You are the expert on your own experience!

Sibling sexual trauma encompasses an incredibly broad range of possibilities and circumstances.

We support all individuals to choose the language that best fits their lived reality.


5WAVES defines siblings as people who share the same parents, and/or were raised in the same home as children.

We recognize that sexual harm is also common among other relatives, such as  cousins, and between children who are not related. We hope that our resources are helpful to those facing these tragedies as well.

  • Our resources focus on behavior that happens when both siblings are still children or young people (minors)

  • Our preferred terms for general use are "child who was harmed" and "child who caused harm"

  • We strive to focus on  actions--"harmful sexual behavior" and effects--"sexual trauma" rather than attaching labels to children or teenagers


We recognize that abusive sibling sexual behavior can also begin or continue when one or both siblings are adults. Our resources do not specifically cover this circumstance, but we welcome those who are affected by it to use any information that is relevant.

Sibling sexual abuse is a more common term. We use sibling sexual trauma as an umbrella term, because it is more inclusive, less stigmatizing, and focuses on the harmful effects rather than the motivation or legal definition of behavior.  However, we do vary our language depending on context. For example, many survivors find the word "abuse" crucial to describe and validate their experience.  When speaking with or of young people who have harmed a sibling, the term "harmful sexual behavior" may be most appropriate.
Gender Inclusive...
Anyone of any gender can experience or cause sibling sexual trauma or abuse
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