Child Abuse

V. Child Abuse Victims: The Patterns

In 2006, of the children who were found to be victims of child abuse, nearly 75% of them were first-time victims (or had not come to the attention of authorities prior). A slight majority of child abuse victims were girls—51.5%, compared to 48% of abuse victims being boys. The younger the child, the more at risk he or she is for child abuse and neglect victimization. Specifically, the rate for infants (birth to 1 year old) was approximately 24 per 1,000 children of the same age group. The victimization rate for children 1–3 years old was 14 per 1,000 children of the same age group. The abuse rate for children aged 4– 7 years old declined further to 13 per 1,000 children of the same age group. African American, American Indian, and Alaska Native children, as well as children of multiple races, had the highest rates of victimization. White and Latino children had lower rates, and Asian children had the lowest rates of child abuse and neglect victimization. Regarding living arrangements, nearly 27% of victims were living with a single mother, 20% were living with married parents, while 22% were living with both parents but the marital status was unknown. (This reporting element had nearly 40% missing data, however.) Regarding disability, nearly 8% of child abuse victims had some degree of mental retardation, emotional disturbance, visual or hearing impairment, learning disability, physical disability, behavioral problems, or other medical problems. Unfortunately, data indicate that for many victims, the efforts of the child protection services system were not successful in preventing subsequent victimization. Children who had been prior victims of maltreatment were 96% more likely to experience another occurrence than those who were not prior victims. Further, child victims who were reported to have a disability were 52% more likely to experience recurrence than children without a disability. Finally, the oldest victims (16–21 years of age) were the least likely to experience a recurrence, and were 51% less likely to be victimized again than were infants (younger than age 1) (National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, 2006).

Child fatalities are the most tragic consequence of maltreatment. Yet, each year, children die from abuse and neglect. In 2006, an estimated 1,530 children in the United States died due to abuse or neglect. The overall rate of child fatalities was 2 deaths per 100,000 children. More than 40% of child fatalities were attributed to neglect, but physical abuse also was a major contributor. Approximately 78% of the children who died due to child abuse and neglect were younger than 4 years old, and infant boys (younger than 1) had the highest rate of fatalities at 18.5 deaths per 100,000 boys of the same age in the national population. Infant girls had a rate of 14.7 deaths per 100,000 girls of the same age (National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, 2006).

One question to be addressed regarding child fatalities is why infants have such a high rate of death when compared to toddlers and adolescents. Children under 1 year old pose an immense amount of responsibility for their caretakers: they are completely dependent and need constant attention. Children this age are needy, impulsive, and not amenable to verbal control or effective communication. This can easily overwhelm vulnerable parents. Another difficulty associated with infants is that they are physically weak and small. Injuries to infants can be fatal, while similar injuries to older children might not be. The most common cause of death in children less than 1 year is cerebral trauma (often the result of shaken-baby syndrome). Exasperated parents can deliver shakes or blows without realizing how little it takes to cause irreparable or fatal damage to an infant. Research informs us that two of the most common triggers for fatal child abuse are crying that will not cease and toileting accidents. Both of these circumstances are common in infants and toddlers whose only means of communication often is crying, and who are limited in mobility and cannot use the toilet. Finally, very young children cannot assist in injury diagnoses. Children who have been injured due to abuse or neglect often cannot communicate to medical professionals about where it hurts, how it hurts, and so forth. Also, nonfatal injuries can turn fatal in the absence of care by neglectful parents or parents who do not want medical professionals to possibly identify an injury as being the result of abuse.

VI. Child Abuse Perpetrators: The Patterns

Estimates reveal that nearly 80% of perpetrators of child abuse were parents of the victim. Other relatives accounted for nearly 7%, and unmarried partners of parents made up 4% of perpetrators. Of those perpetrators that were parents, over 90% were biological parents, 4% were stepparents, and 0.7% were adoptive parents. Of this group, approximately 58% of perpetrators were women and 42% were men. Women perpetrators are typically younger than men. The average age for women abusers was 31 years old, while for men the average was 34 years old. Forty percent of women who abused were younger than 30 years of age, compared with 33% of men being under 30. The racial distribution of perpetrators is similar to that of victims. Fifty-four percent were white, 21% were African American, and 20% were Hispanic/Latino (National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, 2006).

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