It is commonly thought that children in the more developed world are safe and dare I say, are considered lucky, but this is not the case at all. According to a new study conducted this past year, more than one third of American children and teens have been physically assaulted in the past year. The majority of the abusers are siblings and peers. To add to that, about one in twenty children have been physically abused by a parent or another caregiver in the same time period.
As David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, points out, “children are the most victimized segment of the population.” And this is a very bad thing. Because as he also points out, the implications of abuse in a child’s life contribute to some of American society’s most pervasive health and social problems. This includes, but is not limited to drug abuse, suicide, criminal behavior and mental illness.
Now, what makes up this abuse? According to the study which was an analysis of 4,000 children and teen phone interviews, children answered questions about their exposure to violence, and caregivers answered questions for all children under the age of nine years. Over 37 percent of children in the study had been physically assaulted over the course of the last year, and 9 percent had been injured from said assault. 15 percent had been mistreated by a parent or caregiver, including a 5 percent who were physically abused by the parents or caregivers. Now, this mistreatment has been defined as being physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect or interfering with a child’s custody arrangements meaning a restriction of contact with another parent. Meanwhile, another 6 percent had experienced physical violence between their parents or caregivers.
The abuse is distributed very unevenly. With boys having been assaulted about double the amount that girls were. However, 2 percent of all girls interviewed had been sexually abused or assaulted within the last year.
While Finkelhor and others worry about the fact that violence against children is not decreasing in the United States, they are also aware of programs that can be reached out to for help. Programs like parent education and support programs preventing family abuse as well as school based programs help to prevent and thereby, reduce violence against children. The only problem at the moment is getting children and families to access these programs before it is too late.
For children who have been abused, various types of therapy and support are available to help treat any mental health problems and traumas that abuse may have caused.