Student Well-Being

Nearly 2 of 3 Children Exposed to Violence, Crime, and Abuse

By Nirvi Shah — May 13, 2013 2 min read
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The evidence is mounting that children’s exposure to violence, crime, and abuse can have serious consequences on their development, lead to the development of problem behaviors, and cause physical and mental health problems.

Despite the consequences, a large portion of American children are exposed to violence and assaults: New research shows about 2 out of 5 children are physically assaulted in a given year and 1 in 10 are injured in an assault. In addition, nearly 11 percent of teenage girls ages 14 to 17 are sexually assaulted or abused.

The data comes from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, and the results are being published online today in JAMA Pediatrics. The survey, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Justice and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was first conducted in 2008. Generally, the data appears to mirror the 2008 findings, with some very specific exceptions. For example, exposure to bomb threats declined significantly, as did the percentage of children who reported being flashed by a peer, researchers said.

Researchers also found that more than 1 in 10 children experienced mistreatment by a caregiver, including physical abuse. About 14 percent of children were physically intimidated and more than one in three experienced relational aggression—or bullying as its called by everyone but researchers. It’s defined as any relationship in which there is a power imbalance in the relationship between a victim and a perpetrator. Girls were more likely to experience bullying, which includes harassment online or via cellphone, than boys.

The results showed that about 22 percent of children had witnessed violence in their family or in their community in the year prior to the survey, and of all the horrors the survey inquired about—assaults and bullying, sexual victimization, maltreatment by a caregiver, and theft or vandalism—nearly 60 percent of kids had experienced or witnessed one of them.

Although the numbers are a concern, researchers said, they may be artificially law, if anything. The study is based on a survey of a nationally representative sample of more than 4,500 families from across the country.

“The families that could not be contacted at home or who refused cooperation for themselves or their children may be the families whose children have discrepant levels of exposure [to violence or abuse] compared with the cooperating families,” the researchers wrote. And they note that kids may not remember all of their experiences, especially young children.

The researchers note that despite intense public attention in cases such as sexual abuse by Catholic priests, abuse by coaches at Pennsylvania State University, and dozens of high-profile bullying cases, “there have been no reliable, regular, validated data sources for tracking these problems.” That is in sharp contrast to the intense monitoring of other diseases and crimes, and they said, it is something that should change if these abuses are to be prevented and their effects better understood.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.