A new study has found that U.S. children are routinely exposed to even more violence and abuse than has been previously recognized. The study conducted by the University of New Hampshire also revealed that nearly half of the children experienced a physical assault in the study year.
“Children experience far more violence, abuse, and crime than do adults,” said David Finkelhor, director of the UNH Crimes against Children Research Center and the study director. “If life were this dangerous for ordinary grown-ups, we’d never tolerate it,” he said.
UNH researchers asked a national sample of U.S. children and their caregivers about a far broader range of exposures than has been done in the past.
According to the research, three out of five children were exposed to violence, abuse, or a criminal victimization in the last year, including 46 percent who had been physically assaulted, 10 percent who had been maltreated by a caregiver, 6 percent who had been sexually victimized, and 10 percent who had witnessed an assault within their family.
The authors contend that earlier studies of violence exposure only inquired about individual crimes, looking only at bullying or child maltreatment or sexual abuse.
In contrast, this study asked about all such exposures as well as additional ones that are rarely, if ever, covered, such as dating violence and witnessing domestic violence.
The study found that more than a third of the children had had two or more different kinds of exposures in the past year and 11 percent had five or more.
“Studies have missed the fact that there are a surprisingly large group of very repeatedly and variously victimized kids whom we should be doing a better job to help and protect,” Finkelhor added.
The researchers urge teachers, police, doctors, counselors, and parents to ask children about a broader range of possible victimization experiences, especially children who had been identified as victims already.
They also call for new efforts to create safer schools, homes, and other youth environments.