Child Abuse: An Overview

Child Abuse Statistics

The problem is large and is increasing.

Saying anything beyond that seems meaningless. Every attempt to measure incidence to date has been flawed. The estimates range from less than 5 percent to more than 40 percent of all children. The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN), part of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services compiles data about the number of cases reported to Child Protective Services (CPS) each year, but the fact is the number of reported cases is small compared with the number of actual cases. We can reason this by looking at several studies which asked adults about childhood abuse. Adults are more likely to report their own childhood abuse because they no longer live in fear of immediate retaliation from the abuser and they have had time to recover from the psychological effects of living in an abusive household.

A study conducted at a large managed care organization in the northeast, which examined the differences in annual health care costs between women with and without histories of abuse, found that “childhood abuse and neglect histories were reported by 42.8% of the women in this HMO sample (sexual abuse: 18.4%; physical abuse: 14.2%; emotional abuse: 24.1%; emotional neglect: 21.1%; physical neglect: 12.2%), with about half of these women meeting severity criteria for more than one type of maltreatment.”29

Other studies rely on mailed or phone surveys to gather data on abuse. When surveys are used, the frequency of abuse reported is significantly higher than the NCCAN reports. Still, surveys only reach people who have places to live, and the majority of women and children living in shelters and on our streets have experienced abuse. They are not counted by surveys. Also, people living in abusive situations are unlikely to see what they are experiencing as abuse, and are very unlikely to report it. A final reason to doubt the accuracy of surveys is the fact that in abusive households, the abuser exerts almost total control over the victims, event to the extent of insisting on opening all the mail. I wonder how many of those surveys are filled out by the abusers themselves.

So, instead of attempting to reconcile all the various studies on abuse and present them to you in a meaningful format, I have compiled a list of online studies and papers for you to explore.

“1,500 children die from abuse each year. There are 140,000 injuries to children from abuse each year. There are 1.7 million reports of child abuse each year.”3

“…about 1 in 4 women in North America were molested in childhood.”11

“More than 2 million cases of child abuse and neglect are reported each year in the United States. An estimated 150,000 to 200,000 new cases of sexual abuse occur each year.”4

“There were an estimated 903,000 victims of maltreatment nationwide.”22

“An estimated 1,100 children died of abuse and neglect, a rate of approximately 1.6 deaths per 100,000 children in the general populations.”22

“…approximately 1 in 7 males will have been sexually molested before the age of 18.”10

Child Abuse Introduction   |   Signs of Child Abuse
Child Abuse Statistics   |   It’s Under Reported
Effects of Child Abuse on Children: Abuse General
Effects of Child Abuse on Children: Child Sexual Abuse
Injuries to Children: Physical and Sexual Abuse
Effects of Child Abuse on Adults: Childhood Abuse
Effects of Child Abuse on Adults: Childhood Sexual Abuse
Definition of Physical Abuse   |   Signs of Physical Abuse
Definition of Sexual Abuse   |   Signs of Sexual Abuse
Definition of Child Neglect   |   Signs of Child Neglect
Definition of Emotional Abuse   |   Signs of Emotional Abuse
Abusers   |   Pedophiles
Child Physical Abuse and Corporal Punishment
Treatment for Child Abuse
Costs to Society
State Child Abuse Laws
Nationwide Crisis Line and Hotline Directory

Referring to this article:
“Child Abuse: An Overview” was written by C. J. Newton, MA, Learning Specialist and published in the Find (formerly Mental Health Journal in April, 2001.

Use or reference to this article on the Internet must be accompanied by a link to the page you cite.

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