More than 33% of the U.S teens and children have been physically assaulted, mostly by peers in siblings in the past year, according to a new study.
And 1 in every 20 kids have been abused physically by a parent or another caregiver in the same time period according to the researchers.
“Children are the most victimized segment of the population,” said study author David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. “The full burden of this tends to be missed because many national crime indicators either do not include the experience of all children or don’t look at the big picture and include all the kinds of violence to which children are exposed.”
The implications of these results are substantial in terms of children’s lives long-term, Finkelhor said.
“Violence and abuse in childhood are big drivers behind many of our most serious health and social problems,” Finkelhor said. “They are associated with later drug abuse, suicide, criminal behavior, mental illness and chronic diseases like diabetes.”
The findings were published online June 29 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
The researchers observed the results of telephone interviews about the experiences of 4,000 teens and children. Individuals aged from 10 to 17 answered questions regarding their exposure to crime, violence and abuse, while the caregivers answered questions for children at and below the age of 9 years.
A little above 37 percent of the children in study were the victims of physical abuse in the past year, mostly by peers or siblings, and 9 percent had been injured from an assault.
But 15% had been mistreated by a caregiver or a parent, which includes 5 percent who were physically abused by a parent or other caregiver. This mistreatment includes emotional abuse, physical abuse, interfering with a child’s custody arrangements, for instance denying a child to see another parent or talk to them on the phone. Another 6 percent saw a physical fight between their parents.
Boys were assaulted by adults around twice as much as girls were overall. Boys were also more likely to face assault by peers too.
The survey also found that 2 percent of girls overall had been sexually abused or assaulted within the year, which included 4.6 percent of those aged 14 to 17.
“The dizzying array of statistics from this study are sobering and depressing to me as a parent and pediatrician, and they should be of great concern to public health experts and policy makers nationwide,” said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York.
“These statistics should prompt public health experts and policy makers nationwide to commit greater resources to insure that, going forward, children and adolescents are neither exposed to — nor the victim of — so many different forms of violence,” he said.
“On the positive side,” Adesman added, “when the investigators looked for significant increases or decreases across a large number of variables, there were no significant increases in any of the variables examined. “On the other hand, there were also exceedingly few decreases in the reports of exposure to violence, crime or abuse.”
Various programs can help in keeping abuse at bay, Finkelhor said. These include support programs and parent education which can prevent family abuse, school-based programs that decreases bullying and dating violence programs which reduces interpersonal relationship violence.
“The challenge is to get children and families access to these programs, and make such education more comprehensive and integrated into the curriculum,” he added.
Mayra Mendez, who is an early childhood specialist at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California, programs that teach positive parenting strategies, for instance effective communication, positive discipline and development guidance are significant.
“A primary factor in preventing child abuse results from creating safe, stable and nurturing relationships and environments for children and caregivers,” Mendez said.
Mendez said that for the children who faced abused, play therapy and counseling and other various forms of counseling or even medication can help in treating their trauma and mental health.