Child Abuse and Neglect Statistics

WHAT IS CHILD MALTREATMENT?

The U.S. federal government defines child maltreatment as

Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CHILD MALTREATMENT?

There are four types of child maltreatment legally recognized by all states:

  • Physical Abuse
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Emotional Abuse
  • Neglect

Other types of maltreatment recognized by some states and experts include Abandonment and Trafficking. Certain risk factors that have been strongly linked with maltreatment include Parental Substance Abuse and Religious or Cultural Beliefs and Practices.

More specific definitions of types of maltreatment can be found here. To see a listing of state-by-state definitions, click here.

WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON TYPES OF MALTREATMENT?

Of all the children who were reported to have been abused or neglected in 2013, nearly 80% were neglected, 18% were physically abused, and 9% were sexually abused. For more information about maltreatment statistics, go here.

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF MALTREATMENT?

Child abuse and neglect has been linked to short and long-term effects from impaired brain development to juvenile delinquency to serious injury and death. Other problems include

  • Developmental disabilities
  • Socializing problems
  • Poor school performance
  • Depression and suicide attempts
  • Substance abuse
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Adult criminality

For more information about the short and long term effects of maltreatment, visit this page.

HOW MANY CHILDREN ARE ABUSED OR NEGLECTED?

In 2013, an estimated 679,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect in the United States (9.1 victims per 1,000 children in the population).  1250 children were reported to have died from abuse or neglect. More than 27% of victims were younger than 3 years. Nearly 20% were aged 3 to 5 years. The victimization rate was highest for children under the age of 1 year. For more detailed information about reported maltreatment, go here.

HOW MANY CHILDREN DIE FROM ABUSE OR NEGLECT?

In 2013, an estimated 1,520 children died due to abuse or neglect. That means that more than an average of 4 children died from maltreatment each day. Of the children who died, more than 71% suffered neglect and 46.8% suffered physical abuse.

For more information about maltreatment-related child fatalities, click here.

WHO ARE THE PERPETRATORS OF CHILD MALTREATMENT?

In 2013, 51 states reported 515,507 individuals as having been responsible for child abuse or neglect. Of those perpetrators,

  • 83% were between the ages of 18 and 44
  • 53.9% were women
  • 45% were men
  • 49.3% were white
  • 20.1% were African-American
  • 19.5% were Hispanic

More than 91% of all victims were abused or neglected by one or both of their parents. For a more detailed breakdown of perpetrators and their relationship to victims, go here.

WHAT IS RELIGIOUS CHILD MALTREATMENT or RCM?

RCM is child abuse or neglect that is enabled by religious beliefs held by perpetrators, victims, or the surrounding community.*

Children throughout the US and the world suffer child abuse or neglect enabled by religious belief every day. The impacts of this maltreatment can have serious longterm effects and can even be fatal. Whether a child is raised Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or of any other faith, he or she is at risk, particularly if the adults responsible for their wellbeing are part of an authoritarian culture.

Religious organizations in the US collectively have paid billions of dollars settling lawsuits with those they have harmed. High-profile cases of religious child maltreatment regularly appear in the news. You can find memoirs written by survivors who grew up in just about every religion, spiritual group, and cult.

Consider these statistics*:

  • A 1984 study reviewing the health status of children in cults showed that these religious groups had unusually high incidences of physical abuse, sleep deprivation, and medical neglect.
  • A 1984 survey of Quaker families revealed that Quaker fathers reported more acts of violence toward their children than did fathers nationally, and Quaker sibling violence was significantly higher than sibling violence rates reported nationally.
  • A 1995 study that surveyed mental health professionals found that certain kinds of allegations of abuse fell under 3 categories: torturing or killing a child to rid him or her of evil, withholding needed medical care for religious reasons, and abusing a child under the cover of a religious role.
  • A 1998 study published in Pediatrics looked at 172 child deaths occurring in church groups that strongly promoted “faith healing” to cure illness and found that the medical conditions of 140 children would have yielded a 90% survival rate had they received medical care.
  • A 1999 study showed that the more ideologically conservative parents are, the more likely they are to have positive attitudes toward physically punishing children and the more important religion is to parents, the more likely they are to have attitudes that devalue and verbally abuse children.
  • A 2003 study showed that adults who experienced “religion-related” abuse in childhood suffered from more serious psychological problems than those who experienced abuse in which religion was not a factor.
  • A 2005 study showed that individuals who are extrinsically religious (viewed religiosity as a means for attaining other goals rather than as an end in itself) have an increased risk of perpetrating child physical abuse.

For more information on religious child maltreatment, please click here.

HOW MANY CHILDREN ARE VICTIMS OF SEX AND LABOR TRAFFICKING?

From 2007 to 2012, there were 2,688 cases of human trafficking involving at least one child as reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Of those, nearly 75%  involved sex trafficking. Child trafficking can be involved in all kinds of legal and illegal businesses including prostitution, domestic work, hair salons, restaurant work, agricultural work, and drug sales.

In 2013, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that 1 in 7 endangered runaways reported to them were likely victims of sex trafficking.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SIGNS OF MALTREATMENT?

In most cases, it’s important for a proper investigation to be conducted to verify that a child has indeed been abused or neglected. However, anyone can learn to recognize certain behaviors in children that could be indicators that they are victims. Some examples include

Physical Abuse • Unexplained bruises, burns, or welts• Child appears frightened of a parent or caregiver
Sexual Abuse • Pain, bleeding, redness, or swelling in anal or genital area• Age-inappropriate sexual play with toys, self, or others• Age-inappropriate knowledge of sex
Emotional Abuse • Extremes in behavior, ranging from overly aggressive to overly passive• Delayed physical, emotional, or intellectual development
Neglect • Signs of malnutrition• Poor hygiene• Unattended physical or medical problems

 

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I AM THE VICTIM OF ABUSE OR NEGLECT OR I SUSPECT THAT A CHILD IS BEING HARMED?

If you know or have reasonable cause to believe or suspect that a child is being subjected to abuse or neglect, or if you yourself are being victimized, you should immediately report the abuse. Most states consider certain professionals to be mandated reporters, such as physicians, teachers, attorneys, and sometimes clergy; some states require that all adults who suspect maltreatment report it. You do not need to have proof that maltreatment is currently occurring to report it, just reasonable cause to believe that it is happening or has happened in the past. Often, you can report abuse or neglect anonymously.

There are a number of ways to report child abuse and neglect. You can call your state’s toll-free number or the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). If you are witnessing possible abuse or neglect and need to alert authorities right away, call 9-1-1. A helpful link for what to do if you see or suspect that a child is being harmed can be found here.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I SUSPECT THAT A CHILD IS A VICTIM OF TRAFFICKING?

Call the NHTRC Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

I’M A MEMBER OF A FAITH COMMUNITY. WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?

  • Encourage religious leaders to acknowledge publicly that child abuse and neglect is a major concern
  • Adopt a  child abuse prevention educational program that will teach leaders and congregations about maltreatment and reporting
  • Support outreach programs that allow your faith community to partner with governmental agencies toward protecting children from maltreatment

* Janet Heimlich, Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment (Prometheus Books, Amherst, New York, 2011), 29.