Episode 5


In this podcast episode, Lorene Stanwick discusses sibling abuse and the need for more awareness, public education, and supports for survivors based on her personal experience and learnings through her play Broken Branches.

Lorene shares that it is vital to name sibling abuse as a form of abuse and to understand the distinction between rivalry in siblings, and abuse. She shares the harmful impacts of sibling abuse and offers strategies for both parents and children in identifying and navigating sibling abuse. Lastly, she describes her vision for the future and the changes needed to bring awareness to the issue and build stronger responses.

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Lorene Stanwick is a playwright, actor, counsellor & teacher. She is the founder of CreateTruth Productions, a creative forum dedicated to using the arts to raise awareness of the issue of sibling abuse, and to telling stories that reflect the creative and varied ways that people survive trauma. With a B.A. in Drama in Education, a B.Ed. in English & Dramatic Arts, and an M.Ed. in Counselling Psychology, Lorene has a unique lens through which to explore the healing and transformative power of telling our stories. Her play, Broken Branches, produced in Association with Workman Arts in 2019, explores the aftermath of sibling abuse, the least discussed but most prevalent form of domestic abuse. She envisions Broken Branches as the theatrical springboard to further projects about this issue including a solo play, public conversations, and collaborations with relevant groups. Lorene is honoured to be part of this project, honouring Linda Baker and CREVAWC in their vital work!

Visit siblingabuse.ca to learn more about sibling abuse and Lorene’s work


Linda-Baker.pngDr. Linda Baker is a Psychologist, Assistant Professor – Standing Appointment, and the former Learning Director of the Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children (CREVAWC) at Western University. During her time with CREVAWC, Dr. Baker led the Learning Network and the Knowledge Hub. The Learning Network translates knowledge on the continuum of gender-based violence and the Knowledge Hub facilitates a trauma- and violence-informed community of practice with Canadian researchers and practitioners conducting innovative intervention research. She has over 25 years of experience in the mental health and justice systems, working with and learning from children, youth and families dealing with experiences of violence and trauma. Her direct service experience inspires and informs her research and commitment to knowledge translation through resource development and publications, knowledge exchange activities, and workshop presentations. Dr. Baker has co-authored numerous publications/resources related to intimate partner violence exposed children and families, including Walk Proud, Dance Proud: Footprints on a Healing Journey; Helping Children Thrive: Supporting Woman Abuse Survivors as Mothers; and Helping an Abused Woman: 101 things to Know, Say and Do. Her most recent work focuses on the application of intersectionality to research with and services for children exposed to IPV and the evaluation of IPV training programs. Prior to her current roles, Dr. Baker was the Director of the Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System (London Family Court Clinic). She participates regularly on faculty teams delivering Domestic Violence Institutes throughout the United States for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and Futures Without Violence.


00:00:16:17 – Linda

Hello and welcome to today's episode of the podcast Little Eyes, Little Ears: Centering Children and Youth in Gender-Based Violence Work. This podcast is from the Learning Network at the Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women and Children at Western University. The purpose of this podcast is to enhance work to support children and youth in contexts of intimate partner violence.

00:00:46:17 - Linda

I'm Dr. Linda Baker, and I'm pleased to host today's episode with our amazing guest, Lorene Stanwick. Lorene Stanwick is a playwright, actor, counselor and teacher. She is the founder of CreateTruth Productions, a creative forum dedicated to using the arts to raise awareness of the issue of sibling abuse and to telling stories that reflect the creative and varied ways that people survive trauma.

00:01:20:20 – Linda

With a B.A. in Drama in Education, a Bachelor of Education in English and Dramatic Arts, and an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology, Lorene has a unique lens through which to explore the healing and transformative power of telling our stories. Her play, Broken Branches, produced in association with Workman Arts in 2019, explores the aftermath of sibling abuse, the least discussed but most prevalent form of domestic abuse.

00:01:55:18 - Linda

She envisions Broken Branches as the theatrical springboard to further projects about this issue, including a solo play, public conversations, and collaborations with relevant groups. Lorene, it is a great honour for you to be with us today. We’ve been so looking forward to today and we met you when you were working on Broken Branches and I wonder if you’ll just start us off with telling us more about Broken Branches and the creative ways in which you’ve approached this very important issue.  

00:02:35:06 - Lorene

Well, thank you for the lovely introduction, and I'm so thrilled and honoured to be here and to be part of this podcast. And just to be associated with you, Linda is like an honour. So, thank you. So Broken Branches came about, well it started many, many years ago in my mind. I was in my mid to late thirties when I realized that the root of my issues was sibling abuse.

00:03:08:22 - Lorene

And I had seen therapists for years and I had talked about what had happened as my childhood and nobody had ever used the term abuse to describe what happened to me with my siblings. And shortly after that sort of light bulb, aha, angel-singing moment, what came through was just I got to write a play.

00:03:30:23 - Lorene

I've got to turn this into a play. I've got to create awareness. But I didn't know that it was abuse and I had studied psychology and I was like really into understanding kids and emotional abuse and things like that. And if I had didn't recognize it, I realized there must be a lot of people out there who are in the same situation as me.

00:03:51:13 - Lorene

And sure enough, I got online at that point in history and there was almost nothing. Now there's a lot more, like it's come a long way in the last 20 years or something. Maybe not quite that many, but it's come a long way. And yeah, I just had to write a play. I had to do it that way, partly because I, I don't I think it's, I think we learn best through story.

00:04:20:21 - Lorene

I think we learn best when we meet characters, when we meet people, when it's lived experience, when it's not just, you know, a PowerPoint presentation telling us statistics. And so, it was really clear for me. Then, as I started doing my research, I realized, well, there's so many different kinds of sibling abuse. There's sexual abuse, there's emotional, psychological abuse and there's physical abuse, and there's all these different dyads who's brother to brother, brother to sister, sister to sister.

00:04:52:02 - Lorene

There's all of that in there. And so the way I constructed the play was to have three separate stories. So, there was a storyline that was brother-brother violence that was passed down from father, you know, generational, intergenerational violence. There was a woman who had been sexually abused by her brother when she was young and there was a sister-sister physical and emotional abuse story.

00:05:22:11 - Lorene

And so, yeah, I mean, it was such a challenge and such a, how do I put this? It was really, truly a life-changing moment. And part of that was being able to meet so many different people, gave me the excuse to go out and talk to people all the time about sibling abuse. Right? Like, I talk to strangers, I talk to people I work with.

00:05:45:06 - Lorene

You know, I wrote you, somebody told me about your newsletter and I wrote you, that's how we met was the newsletter that you put out as a result of hearing the Current interview that I was in with. It was just such a lovely come full circle with that. I got from so many people was just, you got to do this. You got to tell these stories. You got to do this.

00:06:12:04 - Lorene

That's my story. I had so many people come up after the play and say, that's my story. I've never seen it on stage before. And with the talkbacks, we had the opportunity to talk to professors and mental health workers and survivors and therapists, all kinds of different people and the fellow who did the first book on sibling abuse, Vernon Wiehe, he came up to see the play and to do a talk back.

00:06:41:03 - Lorene

So anyway, it feels like we've come a long way since I started writing the play, but we still have so far to go because everything I read is still, how come nobody's talking about this? How come nobody's doing anything about this? How come our stories aren’t out there?

00:07:02:14 - Linda

It's just wonderful to hear you sharing that.

And a couple things, just to the extent that you feel comfortable. I'm just trying to imagine what that was like having been through this yourself and then getting immersed in the characters you're creating in order to share the story and to help create awareness. And I'm just wondering if you could speak a little bit about what that was like for you.

00:07:33:07 - Lorene

I'm going to tell you a little story to get back to that. I was at a workshop with Gabor Maté who's a trauma expert. It was my first. I went through a couple of rounds of writing. I mean, there were so many drafts of the play, but there was a couple of big rounds of it.

00:07:50:13 - Lorene

And I was in my first big round of it, and I went up to him at lunch. He was open to questions and I went over to him and I said, you know, I'm very excited. I'm about to tell him that I'm, you know, I told him that I'm writing a play about sibling abuse and I'm fully expecting him to say, that's really great.

00:08:08:21 - Lorene

Nobody's talking about that. But what he did, he looked at me and he said, just don't forget that the perpetrator is a victim too. And that changed the entire trajectory of the play, of each character, because I really realized how true that was and how much I have to get inside not only the survivor, the victim, and the survivor, but I had to get inside the head of the perpetrators as well and really understand what it is or do my best to understand what it is and you know, we're such complex beings.

00:08:49:22 - Lorene

We aren't all, like we aren’t all victim and all perfect. You know, we aren't all one or the other. We all have our shadow sides and our dark side. So, I guess it enabled me to really go deeper with each of the characters, sort of recognizing that transition from victim to survivor, you know, realizing that I have to do that.

00:09:15:06 - Lorene

I had to, as in the writing, do that dance of these are victims, but they're also survivors. Because what I really wanted to do, my big goal with the project, with Broken Branches was to reach survivors because I didn't know that I had was a survivor. There's got to be lots of other people out there in the same situation.

00:09:35:04 - Lorene

So, it was really to find within each of these characters, what do they have in them that will make them a survivor and not a victim anymore?

00:09:45:10 - Linda

And I think having seen the play and been so moved by it, I think you were very successful at getting inside the characters and they came alive on the stage in it in an amazing way.

I guess one of my other questions, Lorene, is why specifically a play? So, you know, you've talked about, you know, you just believe that telling stories is the way, not PowerPoints, lectures, you know, but there's lots of other creative mediums. And you chose a play, at least your first project that I became aware of. Why a play?

00:10:30:16 - Lorene

Well, at heart, I'm an actor, you know, that was from the time I was four. I wanted to be on stage more than anything in the world. It didn't quite go that way.

I struggled for a lot of years with a lot of anxiety and depression and mental health issues and addiction, and I was kind of a mess. And I couldn't frankly, I couldn't get it together to do that as a career, to be fully honest. And then life took over and life takes over.

00:10:57:06 - Lorene

But it's still in me and theater is still in me and who I am and who and what I love to do and experience. And I think, like, I don't, I'm not an academic. Like, I don't think in terms of papers and PhDs. I'm just not like that. I'm like, get your hands dirty and get in here and let's like, put this into our bodies and feel what it feels like. So, so I guess that it's just who I am.

00:11:29:01 – Linda

So, a big part of your work, as you've been describing it, is really to name the issue sibling abuse, sibling violence and to increase awareness.

00:11:41:19 – Linda

And that's been such an important step and you’ve seen progress. But I'm curious why you think it's taken so long.  What gets in the way when it comes to sibling abuse, is it true for all forms of abuse or is there something about sibling abuse that's different than other forms such as intimate partner violence or parent-child physical abuse? What is it about sibling abuse?

00:12:10:16 - Lorene

You know, I think we've normalized it by calling it rivalry. Right. I think that was a grave error. And whoever decided to put that word into play a long time ago, because it totally undermines what can actually be happening. Yes, there is rivalry. Yes, there is normal conflict that happens when two siblings both want the same thing or both want the attention of the parent.

00:12:38:22 -Lorene

But when it's balanced, it's rivalry. You know, it becomes abuse when there's an imbalance. I mean, I can go on in more detail about that. But I think to answer your question more succinctly, the normalization of the abuse, I think, is, number one, that we just accept it. Kids will be kids. They beat each other up.

00:13:05:00 -Lorene

That's what they do. They name call. You know, some people even believe that it's necessary because it helps them to establish, you know, a little bit of backbone or a little bit of a thicker skin when they have to go out in the real world. So, yeah, your brother’s treating you like that or your sister’s treating you like that.

00:13:22:05 - Lorene

Wait till you see how other people are going to treat you, you know. So, sometimes it's even encouraged. So, I think that's the biggest thing. I think the other big thing is that we don't have a reporting mechanism for it. I mean, my understanding, you'll know more about this than I do, but my understanding is when it’s sexual abuse, it's a lot more clearly defined, when it's physical or emotional abuse or psychological abuse, it's very nebulous.

00:13:57:00 - Lorene

Right. And parents would have to turn their own kids in and parents don't want to do that. You know, we still live in the “what goes on behind closed doors stays behind closed doors”, except when it comes to child abuse, like we know now that adults can't do that to kids. We know now that adult partners can't do that to their kids, but we still haven't gotten to a way of saying that kid can't do that to that kid.

00:14:30:01 - Lorene

In school, yeah it’s starting, it's better than it was, but I don't know. I mean, it's still the parents that I've talked to still really struggle with that.

00:14:41:20 - Linda

From your experience, in your own experience, but also you talk to so many people and so many people have shared their story of sibling abuse with you. Do you think parents sometimes aren't aware that it's happening?

00:14:58:07 - Lorene

For sure. For sure. For sure. Well, I ended up telling my dad, he was 90 when I told him. And because he couldn't understand why I wasn't connecting with my sister, I'd go to visit him and he'd say, let's go visit your sister. And I would never want to. And finally, I did explain to him why and he was shocked, which shocked me, because I thought I used to run you all the time crying.

00:15:27:13 - Lorene

How could you be so shocked? But he had no idea the extent of it, right. And how damaging it was. And so, I think that's back to that normalization. We expect kids to fight. And so, you know, my mum used to say, you two go play in the traffic, you know, it was just like, go kill each other, go somewhere else and kill each other.

00:15:51:08 - Lorene

Don't bother me so much. You know, it was, it was kind of like that, that it's, just they don't know what's going on. So. Yeah.

00:16:01:11 – Linda

 So, what do we need to do then? What would be more helpful, like in terms of, let's start by if you're talking to parents, then what, you described your dad. He didn't know the extent. He knew there was conflict and tussling and whatnot, as you say, that sort of normalized pushing and shoving between children.

But what do parents need to understand about how they may be more proactive and have agency in terms of understanding and what would be more supportive to children from parents to do?

00:16:42:05 - Lorene

Oh, that’s such a good question.  I think your word proactive is the key, because we tend to just sort of parent as we were parented. Some people go to parenting classes, but I don't think most do. I think it's about being proactive. It's about being invitational. It's about specifically saying to your kids, you know, there's this thing called sibling abuse.

00:17:14:09 - Lorene

You know, like be really direct about it. And depending on the situation, of course. I think they can watch for things. You know, if kids don't want to be alone with their sibling where they used to and now they don't, or if they're really giving their parents a hard time about going out, leaving because so often it happens because elder siblings are in charge of younger siblings.

00:17:37:15 - Lorene

So normally babysitting and I'd use that term for sure. Yeah. Yeah. And that's like prime prime time. I mean, our prime time was after school. My parents both worked, so after school we’d both be home and that was when I got it the worst. So, and being aware of like, I can't, I could never understand why nobody understood why I hated my sister so much and why nobody ever asked me, you know, forever.

00:18:09:24 - Lorene

Like, I never really, never liked her. And nobody ever questioned that. So, from my experience and from other people, I think one of the key things is that kids so desperately need to be seen and heard. Yes. And for who they are as individuals, that like there's factors that play into it, like favoritism, you know, the labels that kids get, you know, the golden child can do no harm.

00:18:43:07 - Lorene

Right? Often, it's the golden child who's doing the most harm because they can get away with it and they can threaten in a way that they have the confidence to threaten with because they know they can get away with it. Like favoritism, comparing kids, you know, why can't you be as good at sports as your brother is or is your sister is?

00:19:04:07 - Lorene

It's about seeing each kid for who they are as an individual and hearing who they are and making time for each of them as special time, not just, you know, we're doing this as a family all the time, but make time for each individual child. Being invitational, being open, asking open-ended questions. Kids are so trained to, the kids who are being abused are often scared into silence. Right. And so, it's providing, it's like, here's the house, open all the windows to provide as many ways in as you can.

00:19:49:11 - Linda

As I listen to you Lorene and I'm thinking that, you know, we have that term now, helicopter parenting and sort of this idea of the parent over-involved, hovering around, etc.

And I think that there's such a continuum in what you're describing is, I think back to, so many parents and even in parenting programs, it's encouraged when things are just as you say, that sort of normal conflict that happens and there's a sort of an equal power balance between siblings, similar in age, similar in size, similar in in abilities, and that the idea is don't interfere too much, let them sort things through.

00:20:40:20 - Linda

And yet the worst possible advice if there's actually sibling abuse going on, in what you're describing is finding that time trying to have a talk and spend time and listen with that child, not with the siblings together, but individually with each sibling is really coming out strongly in your comments.

00:21:05:20 - Linda

Lorene, you've provided some really sound advice for parents, and I wonder if you could talk now about what might be particularly supportive to children who are experiencing this, whether they be preschoolers, school-age children or adolescents. Because I think we know now that it happens throughout all the life stages of childhood and youth.

00:21:35:11 - Linda

So, I'm just curious, what would you want to share directly with young people who might be experiencing this or might be engaging in abusive behaviors towards their siblings?

00:21:52:21 - Lorene

Oh, wow. You know, I keep coming back to the thought of each one of us is sacred. Each individual, each human has the right to be here and the right to be safe and the right to be seen and heard. And every single one of us, whether we are harming or being harmed.

00:22:19:00 - Lorene

And, you know, I think I don't know. It's like, I've got this image of a light, a light inside of us. We all have that light inside of us. And over the course of, you know, if you're violated, if you've been abused, if you've been hurt, it's like the light dims and dims and dims, but it never goes out.

00:22:42:20 - Lorene

It's always there. And it's about finding the things that that brighten it up again for yourself. You know, research on trauma is really clear on that connection. And, you know, if you have one person in your life, your child has one adult in their life who sees them, who hears them, who knows them, who honors them, that's enough to get them through.

00:23:12:10 - Lorene

You know, like you can be okay with just about anything if you've been, if you've got someone in your life who sees you and knows you. And so, I guess I would say to a kid in either position, find that person, find that adult. It might be a teacher, it might be a friend's parent, it might be the assistant at the school, it might be a neighbor.

00:23:40:14 - Lorene

Find that because it's only through honouring yourself and that little light inside of you and it's like, it's all we have to take through with us in our entire life. Right? We've got that light. And then as we get older, we learn to find ways to shine it on ourselves.

00:24:01:23 – Lorene

Like to find what we love to do. What we love to find. What gives us moments of joy. So, if there's a kid who, you know, you get your joy in being alone down at the water, then find your way to do that. Find your way to, you know, just figure out what makes you happy and find that person that you can talk to, I guess, would be the main things.

00:24:29:12 - Linda

Very powerful. I'm thinking about the things you've shared in our discussion today, and I'm just thinking when you think to the future, Lorene, what would you like to see change in how we support children and youth who are experiencing and surviving sibling abuse?

00:24:57:12 - Lorene

Well, there's a whole bunch of things. I would like to know that sibling abuse is as common in our language as child abuse, intimate partner violence, you know, spousal abuse, that those words are there.

00:25:14:22 - Lorene

You know, all the lists that you see, there is never sibling abuse on those lists. You know, not to diminish the importance of what has happened and the importance of the other forms of abuse. But I want to see sibling abuse on every one of those lists. You know, it's time. It's time to get it there. I think that in counseling school, like when I was in counseling school, when I was doing my Master's, there was nothing in any of my textbooks on sibling abuse.

00:25:45:24 - Lorene

It's not built in to training for therapists, for counselors, for teachers, for anybody who works with kids should have specific training on sibling abuse. They should have to meet people who are survivors. They should have to, you know, get some training and understand.  One thing that I have found is that a lot of therapists will say, once I understand what it is, what's going on, the therapeutic process isn't all that different from, you know, working with survivors of the other kind of abuse.

00:26:20:20 - Lorene

So, it really is about the language and getting it out there and making it more, more common, more like showing it for the prevalence that it has, you know, like there's more violence between siblings than anybody. A child is somewhere between five and 20 times more likely to be sexually abused by a sibling than anybody.

00:26:42:06 - Lorene

You know, like it's so prevalent, it's so common, yet it's the least discussed. So that in itself has to be remedied. And I think one of the ways is educating, educating the professionals. I think another way is, you know, finding some kind of legal recourse. How do we support the parents who want to help their kids but don't know how?

00:27:07:14 - Lorene

Who can they go to? What kind of conversations can be had with the, you know, Child Protective Services? What can they do? What can Children's Aid do to help make it more, make them more approachable, make it more accessible to talk to them about what do I do when I have my two kids? So finding through the systems that are in place, finding, making a space in those systems for this conversation to happen.

00:27:43:11 - Lorene

I think another thing that has really come to light in like, in the last few years since COVID, trauma has become such a common conversation, right? And the studies, the adverse childhood experiences, there's nothing about siblings in ACE studies. I've looked at a whole bunch of different questionnaires and none of them mentioned siblings, put siblings in the studies that should be in there.

00:28:06:14 - Lorene

It isn't just an adult or an adult or guardian or somebody five years old anymore because it could be somebody three years older than you. And if we don't recognize ourselves in those, you know, in there, that in itself is saying, you're okay, you're okay, because they were only three years older than you, so you're fine now.

00:28:26:13 - Lorene

And yeah, it's not. So, it's got to be in the ACE studies. And I think the last thing is that, you know, and this is broader than just sibling abuse, but we have to find a way to make mental health supports accessible. You know, like there's so much need for therapy, for counseling for one-on-one help, for specific group help.

00:28:52:08 - Lorene

And that still is not built into our health care system and very well. It’s gotten better, but it still is sorely lacking for people who really need help. You have to end up in the hospital to get some help and that's not okay. It's not good enough. We have to be better than that. So that would be my other really fight to the end for it.

00:29:17:10 - Linda

Well one thing that I would say is, I would hope that there may be a way for more people to see your amazing play, because I think that Broken Branches is such a powerful medium for increasing awareness and reaching not just the potential helpers, but, as you say, survivors who may feel very alone and haven't had the way to name what happened to them and to understand some of the impacts.

00:29:53:03 – Linda

So, we look forward to future creative endeavors that you will no doubt take on. We so appreciate your advocacy and your creativity, and it truly is inspiring Lorene, and we're very grateful that you were with us today and sharing not just what you've been working on in terms of advocacy, but your personal story as well, and how that informs everything you do.

00:30:23:04 - Lorene

Thank you. Thank you for your support.

00:30:25:06 - Linda

For our listeners, please stay tuned for our next episode in this series and you can do that by looking for an email from the Learning Network team to see when the next episode will be ready.

So again, thank you to Lorene Stanwick and take care and goodbye.

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