How common is child abuse?

By the age of 18, one out of eight children will have been found by child protective agencies to be a victim of child maltreatment. What’s more, in study after study, adults self-report abuse and neglect during childhood at much higher rates than the number of survivors suggested by Child Protective Services (CPS) data. Research suggests up to one in four girls and one in six boys are victims of child sexual abuse, and more than a quarter may suffer physical abuse as a child.

There are around 74 million American children in more than 39 million households. Yearly, referrals to child protective services involve 6.3 million children, and around three million of those children are subject to an investigated report. In 2013, state agencies found an estimated 679,000 victims of child maltreatment.

The landmark U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study in 1998 and subsequent Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Surveys (RFSSS), which use some of the same questions, report the prevalence of different types of child abuse as follows (the ACE figures are given first, followed by RFSSS figures from 2010):
  • physical abuse: 28.3%, 15.9%
  • sexual abuse: 20.7%, 10.9%
  • emotional abuse: 10.6%, 35.0%
  • physical neglect: 9.9%, not covered in the RFSSS study
  • emotional neglect: 14.8%, not covered in the RFSSS study
Here are some alarming statistics about child abuse from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS):
  • One in three girls and one in five boys is sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • One in five children is solicited sexually while on the Internet.
  • Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) are on children age 17 and under.
This is clearly a call to action. Recognition of the signs of child abuse and reporting to appropriate intervention and protection agencies may allow these children to receive help and heal from their experiences and become healthy members of society.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.