Sibling abuse — battlefield in the home

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Story. The first murder in the Bible is reported in the Book of Genesis. Cain killed his brother Abel.

Motive: Cain became angry and jealous over his brother’s animal sacrifice (Abel’s gift pleased God), so the older brother sought revenge.

Weapon: Cain used a rock to hit Abel on the head.

Forensic evidence: Blood was found on the rock and in the field.

Witness: God confronted Cain. “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” Cain lied, “I don’t know what happened.”

Homicide charge. First degree, second degree or voluntary manslaughter. Was the killing premeditated or impulsive?

Today, Eve or Adam would dial 911 and handcuffed Cain would be arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced.

Also in Genesis, Joseph’s jealous older brothers threw him into a pit in the wilderness to die. They lied to their father about what happened to Joseph.

Again, the Book of Genesis speaks of jealousy and conflict between brothers, Jacob and Esau. The older twin brother Esau gave up his birthright to Jacob. Esau vowed to kill his brother, but Jacob fled. Many years later the brothers reconciled.

The killing of a brother or sister is known as “fratricide.” And the word “siblicide” is also used to refer to sibling homicide. In an article in the 2002 journal, Violence Victims, Erika Gebo analyzed 4,668 cases of fratricide in the U.S. between 1976 and 1994. Results found 73 percent of cases involved brothers. Among adult brothers, the younger usually kills the older. Among juvenile brothers, the older usually kills the younger. Alcohol and drug use were identified as contributing factors. Gebo results concluded the majority of killings were impulsive and not premeditated.

Dallas, an evening television soap opera, aired from 1978 to 1991. And who could forget the unscrupulous older brother, J.R. Ewing (actor Larry Hagman), who dominated younger brother, Bobbie (actor Patrick Duffy), and the entire feuding family? J.R. was shot, survived, and later revealed the shooter as his sister-in-law/mistress. My guess for the shooter’s identity was Bobbie, his brother.

In 1980, the results of a research survey of families shocked Americans. According to Murray Straus, Ph.D., author of Behind Closed Doors: Violence in the American Family, 74 percent of siblings push or shove brothers and sisters; 42 percent kick, punch and bite; and 85 percent engage in verbal aggression. This survey was repeated ten years later with overwhelming results as well.

“Those siblings who are most violent to each other live in homes in which parents are abusive to each other and in which the children are disciplined by spanking and corporal punishment. Also children learn violence from watching TV and videos and from playing violent video games,” revealed the National Family Violence Surveys.

According to a News 5 Cleveland report, the police chief from Streetsboro, Ohio, alleged an 11-year-old boy was shot by his 13-year-old brother in what “appears to be a premeditated act,” in 2018.

In Stark County, Ohio, the sheriff alleged 25-year-old Jacob Stockdale shot and killed his 21-year-old brother and mother, as reported by in 2017.

Nicholas Starling, 17, was 16 when he killed his 14-year-old brother, Harley Starling, in October 2016, according to the Dayton Daily News.

Rejection, revenge, retaliation. Jealousy, rage, greed. Betrayal, vigilante justice, humiliation. Power, control, entitlement. Mental illness, impulsivity, psychosis. Rivalry, competition, disagreement. What fuels sibling abuse and aggression? What fuels family violence? What fuels fratricide?

Society needs to acknowledge sibling violence as a social problem, just like child, partner, and elderly abuse. Although progress has been made in recognizing, treating, and preventing family violence, there is more work to be done.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. Contact her at

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. Contact her at