The dangerous extremes of sibling rivalry

When a brother-sister relationship becomes violent, parents must turn to professionals for help

Last month, singer Jamila "Mila" Panpinij posted photos on Instagram of herself in the hospital with bandages wrapped around her head and eye. Two years ago, she was hospitalised because her brother had stabbed her in the head, left eye and ear and upper body. After she recovered, she wanted to report the incident to the police but her family did not want the matter in the news. The 27-year-old also alleged that her brother consumed alcohol and attacked family members before. However, she decided to report the incident two years later because she wanted justice.

After the incident, Jamila's brother underwent treatment for two months at a psychiatric hospital. Now he's still undergoing treatments.

Jamila is a victim of sibling abuse -- another type of domestic violence that is on the rise. The Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation (WMP) monitored and collected domestic violence cases from nine major newspapers for several years. In 2016, five out of a total of 226 cases (20.8%) were sibling homicides, two of which involved alcohol. In 2018, 21 from a total of 384 cases (39.6%) were sibling homicide, five of which involved alcohol.

"Most sibling homicide cases involve misunderstanding and conflict over property or inheritance. Other factors such as alcohol and drug usage are often involved too. For Jamila's sibling abuse case, there probably were parenting problems as well as alcohol usage. I think her brother was probably under social pressure and a victim of some chronic issue that was never solved. He then took out his frustration on a family member," said WMP director Jaded Chouwilai.

Domestic violence leaves both physical and mental effects on victims. Jamila revealed that she had many scars on her body and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She feels anxious because she doesn't know her brother's whereabouts and her family hides information about him from her. She wants to take legal action against him, which is unusual for Thai families. According to section 7 of the Domestic Violence Victim Protection Act, B.E.2007, legal action must be filed within three months of the date when victims are in a condition to press charges or file a complaint. If not, the statute of limitations expires and Jamila's case happened two years ago.

"Most Thai people consider domestic violence a personal issue but it is not. A victim is often injured and if the problem is not resolved, it can lead to death. According to the Domestic Violence Victim Protection Act, if a victim reports a case to police officers, the abuser must redeem his/her behaviour and the victim will receive treatment. Under this law, domestic violence can be negotiated. However, in Jamila's case, the statute of limitations has expired. If she files a lawsuit, it will be under the criminal law, which is difficult to negotiate," explained Jaded.

Jamila 'Mila' Panpinij posted photos on Instagram explaining why she was hospitalised. Photo:

Jamila's domestic violence experience is the cause of her PTSD but that's not always the case among victims. Dr Supara Chaopricha, psychiatrist and director of Mind and Mood Clinic, explained that after such experiences, a victim may develop panic attacks.

"Since it is a life-threatening incident, a victim will feel extremely terrified and insecure and have panic attacks. If the attacker is a family member or has a close relationship with the victim, she/he will feel more pain. Some victims experience depression. If a victim receives proper treatment at that time, the symptoms can be managed," she said.

"There are many factors that cause victims to be at risk of developing PTSD. One example is a child who experiences long-term abuse or regularly witnesses fights between parents. In this case, a highly sensitive victim or a patient with anxiety or depression is more at risk of developing PTSD," Dr Supara added.

In some domestic violence cases, victims feel neglected because family members do not take their side. Instead, they protect the abuser. Jaded said this is because Thailand is a patriarchal society.

"Some families love their sons more than daughters. If parenting lacks a good balance, there will be problems. Whether your child is a boy, a girl or LGBTI, he/she is your child. You must raise them to respect the rights of others. There is equality for every gender. People should give up the idea that a son is a person who inherits the family name, so every family member must protect him. A balance in a family will happen when there is no gender preference," said Jaded.

"However, sometimes family members will protect the abuser and not the victim. For instance, sometimes fathers sexually abuse their daughters but family members protect the father because he is the key person who supports others in the family. In some families, the abuser may need special care, so members of the family try to protect them and do not explain to the victim the reason for their actions," the psychiatrist said.

To mend a relationship that is broken, both the director of WMP and the psychiatrist agreed that Jamila and her brother have to be treated equally by their parents.

"Jamila's parents must set aside some personal time to be with each of their children. Since Mila feels nobody takes her side, her parents must make her feel that they love her no less than her brother. Her brother must face some consequences for his actions. He must apologise or admit that he hurt Mila and express regret or guilt to her," said Dr Supara.

"Jamila has PTSD, so her parents should take her to see a psychiatrist and look after her closely. The singer is worried that her brother may come back to attack her again. Jamila's parents should make sure that she feels secure and protected. At the same time, they must resolve their son's behaviour because he has problems with drugs and alcohol. If they cannot make Jamila feel safe, she may need to take legal action," Jaded suggested.

Sibling abuse is a serious problem but it can be prevented. Dr Supara suggested it is better if parents prevent sibling abuse from occurring in the first place by establishing close family relationships and good communication.

"When parents see bad behaviour from children, they must take steps to stop or prevent that unwanted behaviour from occurring again. For example, a parent can tell a child that he/she can feel angry at his/her sibling but that he/she cannot hit her/him. A child must learn the rules that he/she cannot verbally or physically abuse others. If he/she behaves inappropriately, they must face some consequences for the inappropriate action such as punishment, so he/she will not behave like that again," she said.

When a family cannot solve sibling abuse problems, Jaded said the family should seek help from professionals like a psychiatrist who can help families solve these issues.

"Many psychiatrists provide family therapy. As the neutral person, the psychiatrist will connect viewpoints of other family members and encourage them to listen more to each other. In Mila's case, she does not need to come to the same session with her brother. There is a technique that a patient has to rearrange a relationship with her sibling. The session will not erase the memory of the incident but it can help change the perspective or meaning of the past experience," said Dr Supara.

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