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Child Abuse: Statistics, Offenders, and Demographics
By Leonard A. Sipes, Jr.
Published: 05/29/2017

Child original scaled We have a question as to child abuse and correlates. The reader wants to know about the offenders and their circumstances.

To do this, I will rely on the National Incidence of Child Abuse and Neglect, which is based on 2005 to 2006 data and was published in 2010. It’s considered the definitive report on correlates. I will supplement this data with more recent reports.

Child Abuse and Future Criminal Activity

There are some who believe that child abuse and neglect is the heart of the violent crime problem in the United States. We endlessly debate root causes or correlates of crime with little mention of child abuse. The collective data indicates that most children in the United States are either victims of child abuse or neglect or are exposed to violence.

Between 75 and 93 percent of youth entering the juvenile justice system annually in this country are estimated to have experienced some degree of trauma. Children and Trama

There is self-report data from the Department of Justice that 55 percent of offenders claim mental health issues. Crime in America-Mental Health

Most of the criminal offenders I interviewed throughout my career were neglected or abused.

Most of the female offenders I interviewed were sexually abused or terribly mistreated with horrific consequences for themselves and their children.

When I interviewed professionals working with domestic violence offenders, it was startling to be told that many people (mostly men) harming their significant others were convinced that they did nothing wrong.

The same observation applied to child abuse. There are some people so damaged by their own upbringings or substance abuse that neglect was common.

We all acknowledge that child abuse is vastly unreported, and what’s presented below represents a percentage of actual incidents. I try in this article to report percentages rather than numbers.

This article principally relies on data from The National Incidence of Child Abuse and Neglect. There are additional, more recent studies, which are noted below.

Unfortunately, the National Incidence of Child Abuse and Neglect offers the usual federal government overkill; presented here is a partial summary that hopefully makes the issue simpler to read and comprehend.

How Many Children are Abused or Neglected?

The National Incidence of Child Abuse and Neglect provides an excellent overview of the correlates (connections) of abused and neglected children and demographics. It’s still considered to be the definitive study of child abuse and neglect exploring correlates.

It states that one child in every 58 in the United States is mistreated.

Please note that other, more recent reports estimate that, “One child in every 25 in the United States is abused or neglected.” See Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2014 National Report, at Juvenile Offenders and Victims. Beyond citing definitional issues, the document doesn’t explain the differences between the “1 in 58” and the “1 in 25” findings.

Another 2014 Department of Justice study shows that 60 percent of children nationwide are exposed to violence, crime, or abuse; consequences include poor school performance, drug and alcohol abuse, long-term physical and psychological harm, and risk of future victimization and suicide. See “Children’s Exposure to Violence” at Exposure to Violence

See more on child abuse on Crime in America.Net at Crime in America-Child Abuse.

The National Incidence of Child Abuse and Neglect

The National Incidence Study is a long-term research effort to estimate the number of incidents of child abuse and neglect across the country each year. The study relies upon community professionals, referred to in the study as “sentinels,” who typically encounter children and families through the course of their work, to serve as lookouts for victims of child abuse and neglect.

The overall findings indicate that child maltreatment rates across the country shift over time. These shifts mean that the incidence of child maltreatment is associated with the national economy, child welfare system policy reform, and changes in child welfare system practice, among other things.

The National Incidence Study (NIS-4) concluded that socioeconomic status is the single strongest predictor of maltreatment (with the exception of incidents involving sexual abuse).

The findings show an overall decrease in the incidence of maltreatment since the NIS–3, as well as decreases in some specific maltreatment categories and increases in others.

What’s below comes from the National Incidence Study with editing for readability.

Incidence of Harm Standard Maltreatment

Using the stringent Harm Standard definition, more than 1.25 million children (an estimated 1,256,600 children) experienced maltreatment during the study.

This corresponds to one child in every 58 in the United States.

A large percentage (44%) were abused, while most (61%,) were neglected.

Girls were sexually abused much more often than boys.

Most of the abused children experienced physical abuse (58% of the abused children).

Slightly less than one-fourth were sexually abused (24%), while slightly more than one-fourth were emotionally abused (27%).

Almost one-half of the neglected children experienced educational neglect (47% of neglected children), more than one-third were physically neglected (38%), and one-fourth were emotionally neglected (25%).

Unlike the dramatic increase in the incidence of Harm Standard maltreatment that occurred between the NIS–2 and NIS–3 (earlier reports) where the rate increased by 56%, the NIS–4 reveals a smaller change since the NIS–3, in the opposite direction.

The NIS–4 estimate of the incidence of overall maltreatment in the 2005–2006 study year reflects a 19% decrease in the total number of maltreated children since the NIS–3 in 1993.

Taking into account the increase in the number of children in the United States over the interval, this change is equivalent to a 26% decline in the rate of overall maltreatment per 1,000 children in the population.


Compared to children with employed parents, those with no parent in the labor force had 2 to 3 times the rate of maltreatment overall, about 2 times the rate of abuse, and 3 or more times the rate of neglect. Children with unemployed parents had 2 to 3 times higher rates of neglect than those with employed parents.


Children in low socioeconomic status households had significantly higher rates of maltreatment in all categories and across both definitional standards. They experienced some type of maltreatment at more than 5 times the rate of other children; they were more than 3 times as likely to be abused and about 7 times as likely to be neglected.


Children living with their married biological parents universally had the lowest rate, whereas those living with a single parent who had a cohabiting partner in the household had the highest rate in all maltreatment categories. Compared to children living with married biological parents, those whose single parent had a live-in partner had more than 8 times the rate of maltreatment overall, over 10 times the rate of abuse, and nearly 8 times the rate of neglect.

Number of Children

The general pattern was nonlinear: the incidence rates were highest for children in the largest families (those with 4 or more children), intermediate for “only” children and those in households with 3 children, and lowest for children in families with two children.

The largest differences occurred in the Endangerment Standard maltreatment rates, especially for the neglect categories, where the incidence rates for children in the largest households were more than twice the rates for children in households with 2 children.

Rural Children

Rural children had a nearly 2 times higher rate of overall Harm Standard maltreatment and nearly 2 times higher rate of overall Endangerment Standard maltreatment. Whether this reflects better coverage of maltreated children in the rural counties or higher rates of actual maltreatment in rural communities is not clear.


Biological parents were the most closely related perpetrators for 71% of physically abused children and for 73% of emotionally abused children.

The pattern was distinctly different for sexual abuse. More than two-fifths (42%) of the sexually abused children were sexually abused by someone other than a parent (whether biological or nonbiological) or a parent’s partner, whereas just over one-third (36%) were sexually abused by a biological parent.

In addition, severity of harm from physical abuse varied by the perpetrator’s relationship to the child. A physically abused child was more likely to sustain a serious injury when the abuser was not a parent.

Children were somewhat more likely to be maltreated by female perpetrators than by males: 68% of the maltreated children were maltreated by a female, whereas 48% were maltreated by a male. (Some children were maltreated by both.)

Of children maltreated by biological parents, mothers maltreated the majority (75%) whereas fathers maltreated a sizable minority (43%).

In contrast, male perpetrators were more common for children maltreated by nonbiological parents or parents’ partners (64%) or by other persons (75%).

Perpetrator’s alcohol use, drug use, and mental illness.

Perpetrator’s alcohol use and drug use were approximately equivalent factors, each applying to 11% of the countable children, while mental illness was a factor in the maltreatment of 7% of the children.


Child Abuse-Executive Summary
Child Abuse-Full Report

Reprinted with permission from http://www.crimeinamerica.net.

Contact us at crimeinamerica@gmail.com or for media on deadline, use leonardsipes@gmail.com.

Leonard A. Sipes, Jr has thirty-five years of experience supervising public affairs for national and state criminal justice agencies. He is the Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and the Former Director of Information Management for the National Crime Prevention Council. He has a Post Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and is the author of the book "Success With the Media". He can be reached via email at leonardsipes@gmail.com.


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