More than one third of children were physically assaulted last year

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published December 23, 2015

Key Takeaways

More than 37% of children and teens 17 and younger experienced a physical assault in the last year, primarily at the hands of siblings and peers, according to an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics. Assaults that led to injury occurred in more than 9% of children.

In this study, researchers at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, analyzed data from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), a joint initiative by U.S. Department of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers reviewed responses from 4,000 children and adolescents (17 and younger) to ascertain current estimates of exposure to violence, crime, and abuse. Survey information was collected from telephone interviews (from August 2013 to April 2014) with caregivers and young people.

Key findings that respondents reported had occurred in the past year:

  • 9% of children and youth had more than 1 direct experience of violence, crime, or abuse; 10.1% had 6 or more, and 1.2% had 10 or more.

  • 37.3% experienced a physical assault during the study year, primarily from siblings (21.8%) and peers (15.6%). An assault resulting in injury occurred in 9.3%.

  • 5% experienced a sexual offense; 1.4% experienced a sexual assault.

  • Girls ages 14 to 17 were at highest risk for sexual assault, with 16.4% experiencing a sexual offense and 4.6% experiencing sexual assault or sexual abuse. Among this group, 4.4% had an attempted or completed rape, while 11.5% experienced sexual harassment, and 8.5% were exposed to unwanted Internet sexual solicitation.

  • 2% of children and youth experienced maltreatment by a caregiver, including 5% who experienced physical abuse.

  • 5% witnessed violence in the family or community, with 8.4% witnessing a family assault.

Of note, the overall assault rate for 2014 was down 3.2 percentage points compared with 2011, and 15 out of 16 specific forms of assault or intimidation also showed declines. However, only one of the declines—dating violence—was statistically significant.

The researchers acknowledged that the survey design may underestimate results. “Various factors may have prevented us from capturing the full extent of exposure,” they wrote. For example, families who could not be reached or who refused to cooperate may also be families in which children have more exposure to violence. Also, children—particularly younger children—may not be inclined or able to distinguish their experiences to adequately report them.

Despite these limitations, the researchers asserted that the survey provides a comprehensive portrait the violence that children currently experience. “Children and youth are exposed to violence, abuse, and crime in varied and extensive ways, which justifies continued monitoring and prevention efforts,” the authors concluded.

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