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Child abuse. It’s one of the most emotionally charged-and often least understood subjects of our day. Most public attention is given to a select few types of maltreatment; usually physical abuse, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. Yet these represent only a small portion of the maltreatment spectrum, and are often not even the most pervasive methods of harm to a child. Here is some basic facts and statistics that everyone should know regarding child abuse:

  1. Around 75% of fatal abuse victims are under 4 years of age.
  2. Approximately 19% of child maltreatment fatalities occur among infants.

The Number of Children Abused & Neglected

How many children are abused and neglected? There are no definitive answers to this question, since the majority of abuse uses are never reported. Yet the following statistics should give you some idea of the scope of the problem.

Statistics on Child Abuse Deaths: the Number of Kids Killed by Child Abuse

  1. Around 1,500 deaths are directly attributed to child abuse & neglect each year.
  2. Children living in households with unrelated adults are nearly 50 times as likely to die from injuries related to child abuse.


Statistics on Who Commits Child Abuse

  1. Despite popular perception, child abuse is more often committed by women than by men — 58% verses 42%. (Macionis, 2009, p.388)
  2. Most child abuse occurs at the hands of a related adult, most often a parent.


Harm & Longterm Consequences of Child Abuse

  1. Research shows that mere exposure to domestic violence or conflict can be as harmful to children as abusing them directly.
  2. Verbal abuse, or putting a child down with diminutive statements, is 7 times more associated with lasting harm than sexual abuse.
  3. A good portion of the harm in many cases of abuse comes not from the original acts but by negative social beliefs added afterwards. Those who spread destructive emotional energy about such events, or those who encourage responses that involve conflict or vengeful attitudes can easily do more harm to a child than was done by the original act of abuse.
  4. Consistent with the above, children who are sexually abused and come into contact with the justice system are 10 times more likely to become disturbed and remain disturbed than those whose situations are handled through other means.
  5. Child welfare organizations have a poorer track record in terms of negative outcomes than any other particular form of abuse or act of violence. Furthermore, more kids are murdered while in state custody per capita than are murdered in their natural homes. The bottom line: being removed from the home and placed into foster care is a worse form of abuse than virtually anything a child may experience in their home, with the exception of the most extreme cases. There are no easy answers to this problem, and any real accomplishments must come from working with the child’s caregivers, not against them.
  6. Hurtful experiences come in many different varieties, and many of the things society overlooks can be just as detrimental  to a child’s wellbeing as traditional forms of abuse and neglect.   For instance, each of the following is associated with harmful outcomes comparable to that suffered by abused and neglected children, depending on the circumstances:
    • Divorce
    • Single parenting or parental absence
    • Childhood obesity
    • Verbal abuse
    • Dysfunctional family settings
    • Disciplinary abuse & neglect (in it’s many different forms)
    • Substance abuse in the family
    • Childhood poverty or low SES
    • Physical abuse
    • Physical neglect
    • Emotional neglect
    • Overprotection (Information and research regarding all of these topics is available in our book: Child Maltreatment; A cross-comparison)


Sources & References

  1. U.S Dept. of Health & Human Services (find full ref)
  2. David Finkelhor, head of Crimes Against Children Unit; CDC, 4-4-08, “Nonfatal maltreatment of infants-United States,” MMWR Weekly, vol. 57(13), 336-339
  3. D.R. Walters (1975) Physical and Sexual Abuse of Children: Causes and Treatment. Bloomington: Indiana University Press
  4. Study of Missouri Data, published in the American Academy of Pediatrics, 2005
  5. Terry (1997); Delaney-Black TL 2002
  6. Ney, PG fung, T., Wickett, A.R. (1994) “The Worst Combination of Child Abuse and Neglect..” Child Abuse and Neglect, 18705-714
  7. D.R. Walters (1975) Physical and Sexual Abuse of Children: Causes and Treatment. Bloomington: Indiana University Press
  8. Runyan et al. (1988) “In tact of Letal Intervention on Sexually Abussed Children.” Journal of Pediatrics, 113, 647-653
  9. Global Children’s Fund (2009) Child Maltreatment: A Cross-Comparison. Castle Rock, CO: GCF Unpublished Manuscript
  10. Ibid

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