Frequently Asked Questions about Child Abuse & Neglect

child-279975_1280What is child abuse?

Child abuse is the physical, sexual or emotional maltreatment or neglect of a child.

How many children are victims of abuse?

  • In the United States, nearly 5 children die each day from child abuse and neglect. Almost 80% of child fatalities are attributed to one or more of the child’s parents.
  • In 2011, approximately 681,000 children were victims of abuse or neglect.
  • 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their 18 birthday.
  • 1 in 5 children between the ages of 10-17 will receive an unwanted online sexual solicitation, predominantly via chat rooms or email.
  • 1 in 25 children between the ages of 10-17 will receive an online sexual solicitation to meet face-to-face with the solicitor

Who typically abuses children?

  • Over 90% of child abuse victims KNOW the person harming them. Abusers are usually someone a child knows, loves or trusts.
  • 2012 statistics show that nearly 65% of all child abuse happens at the hands of a parent, step-parent, relative OR boyfriend/girlfriend of the parent.
  • Nearly 40% of child sexual abuse is committed by a family member. The younger the victim, the more likely it is the perpetrator is a family member: 1) under 6 years of age, 50% of perpetrators were family members; 2) ages 12-17, 23% were family members. (Snyder 2000)
  • There is no set profile for pedophiles. There are some common characteristics that parents and other caring adults should keep in mind including:
      • Pedophiles place themselves where they have ready access to children and will often become involved in activities of children including sports, music and worship.
      • Pedophiles will often seem nice, trustworthy and honest and often display an excessive interest in a particular child or children.
      • A pedophile can be anyone.

What are some warning signs that a child may be sexually abused?

There is a saying in the child abuse cases that, “It’s normal to be normal.” Often times, children do not display physical signs of abuse and often behave as if nothing has happened. In fact, an alarming 73% of child victims do not tell anyone they have been abused for at least a year. 45% of victims do not tell anyone for at least 5 years, while others never disclose their abuse (Smith et al., 2000; Broman-Fulks et al., 2007).

There are, though, some warning signs that a child may have been or is being sexually molested, including:

  • Advanced sexual knowledge or displaying sexual behavior that is not age-appropriate
  • Changes in behavior such as withdrawal, crying without provocation or sleeplessness
  • Self-harming behavior, such as cutting, burning, hitting or attempts at suicide
  • Sudden reluctance to be alone with a certain person
  • Sudden change in academic performance
  • Presence of sexually transmitted diseases
  • Poorly explained bruising, soreness, genital pain or bleeding
  • Running away from home
  • Involvement in drugs or prostitution

What are warning signs that a child is being physically abused or neglected?

While the existence of one or more of these warning signs do not mean a child is being abused or neglected, they can sometimes be indicative of maltreatment:

  • Developmental delays or regression
  • Failure to thrive: low body weight given a child’s height or head circumference
  • Unusual parent/child interaction: parent may seem disinterested; child may seem overly anxious to please
  • Poor mental health including low self esteem, anxiety, depression or suicidal tendencies
  • Inappropriate or problem behavior
  • Sudden change in academic performance
  • Poorly explained bruises, cuts or other physical injuries
  • Unkept appearance (lack of consistent grooming, bathing)
  • Ill-fitting or inadequate clothing
  • Consistent illness or fatigue

Are there factors that place a child at risk for sexual abuse?

Child sexual abuse can happen to any child regardless of age, gender, socio-economic status, race or religion. While no child is immune to sexual abuse, there are some common threads among cases of reported abuse, such as:

  • Family structure: children who live with two married biological parents are at the lowest risk for abuse.
  • Children who live with a single parent or step parents are at higher risk for abuse and children in foster homes are 10 times more likely to be sexually abused than those living with two biological parents.
  • Girls are 5 times more likely to be sexually abused than boys (Sedlack, et. al. 2010). For girls, abuse typically starts at an earlier age and lasts for a longer duration (Putnam 2003).
  • Children are most likely to be sexually abused in their prepubescent years, ages 7 to 12 (Finkelhor 1994). The median age of child abuse victims is 9 years (Putnam 2003).
  • Children whose parents are not working are 3 times more likely to be sexually abused (Sedlack, et.al. 2010).
  • Children who live in rural areas are almost 2 times more likely to be identified as victims of child sexual abuse (Sedlack, et. al. 2010).
  • Perpetrators report they look for passive, quiet, troubled or lonely children from single parent or broken homes (Budin & Johnson 1989).


Additional sources (updated May 2013):


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