Preventing Child Abuse

Child Abuse Prevalence and Impact

Child abuse is a horrific experience with potentially lasting effects. It’s also, unfortunately, a common experience. Here’s a look at the scope of the problem.

Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S each year. An estimated 678,000 children (unique incidents) were victims of abuse and neglect in 2018, the most recent year for which there is national data. That’s about 1% of kids in a given year. However, this data may be incomplete, and the actual number of children abused is likely underreported.

Child welfare authorities ensure the safety of more than 3.5 million kids More than 3.5 million children received an investigation or alternative response from child protective services agencies. An estimated 1.9 million children received prevention services.

An estimated 1,770 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States in 2018, the most recent year for which there is national data. But child abuse fatalities are not the only consequences  abused children suffer. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, and neglect are forms of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that researchers have linked to mental health problems, such as mood disorders, anxiety, substance abuse, and impulse control disorders. Child abuse often co-occurs with other ACEs, like witness to domestic violence or community violence, traumatic loss or separation, or sexual assault. Adults with multiple ACEs have even been shown to be more likely to endure poor health outcomes like diabetes, STDs, heart disease, and early death.

Source: National Children’s Alliance

Please click one of the links below to learn more about each topic.

We teach our children all sorts of tools for staying safe – looking both ways before crossing the street, avoiding hot stovetops, knowing how to dial 911. There is a set of knowledge of body safety which, taught to children early and discussed frequently, can help protect them from sexual abuse. These straightforward include:

  1. Teach children the correct names for parts; they should be no less comfortable referring to a penis or vagina than to an elbow or knee.
  2. Teach children that some body parts – such as those covered by a bathing suit – are private. No one should touch or look at their private parts, except a caregiver or a doctor to help make sure they are clean and healthy, and no one should ask them to touch someone else’s private parts. 
  3. Tell children that nobody should ever take pictures of their private parts. 
  4. Discuss the difference between surprises and secrets. Nobody should ask a child to keep a secret from their parents.
  5. Teach children that they can say no if someone asks them to do something that feels wrong – and that they can walk away, or ask an adult or a peer to leave. Let them know that there won’t be repercussions for telling you if someone made them uncomfortable.
  6. Together, crate a list of “trusted adults” that children can talk to if someone or something is making them uncomfortable.
  7. Help children to understand about boundaries and consent – their own as well as those of others. 

Between school, games, and socializing, children and teens spend a great deal of time online – even more so with the virtual/hybrid learning models instituted as a result of the pandemic. With all the benefits offered by the internet, however, there comes some inherent danger. The good news is that parents can effectively stay on top of their children’s online activities to help ensure their safety.

  1. Regularly check the apps on all technology used by your children. Try out the apps and see how they work. Learn the access, privacy, and messaging policy of each app, and read the fine print.
  2. Enable parental controls which give you the ability to restrict access and monitor messaging.
  3. Directly supervise children under 8 in any technology use.
  4. Make sure that location services are turned off on all devices.
  5. Ensure that your child uses YOUR name and email, not their own, for all games and apps that ask them to create an ID or give any information.
  6. Talk to your child regularly, in an age-appropriate way, about potential consequences of interacting with people online, especially sending pictures and messages of a sexual nature. • Reassure children that they should not be afraid to tell you if they made a mistake (i.e. accepted a request from someone they didn’t know or sent an inappropriate picture) and that you will work it out together.
  7. Let children know that they should ALWAYS tell you if someone online makes them uncomfortable.

Parents can also keep an eye out for some red flags that may indicate that further conversation or action is needed:

  1. Secrecy about online activities
  2. Obsessiveness about being online
  3. Changing screens or turning of the computer when an adult enters the room
  4. Getting angry when unable to go online
  5. Receiving phone calls, messages, or gifts (real or virtual) from unknown sources

Any behavior that looks like an attempt to exploit children, such as asking for naked photos, using sexual language, or asking to meet, should be reported to the Cybertip Line, 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

Sexual exploration and play are a natural part of childhood sexual development. Some childhood sexual behaviors, however, indicate more than harmless curiosity. In some cases, sexual behaviors pose a risk to the safety and well-being of the child and other children in his or her world. These sexual behavior problems tend to continue even after the child has been told to stop or limit the behavior.

Sexual behaviors in children may be considered problematic if they have one or more of the following characteristics:

  1. Are clearly beyond the child’s developmental stage
  2. Involve threats, force, or aggression
  3. Involve inappropriate or harmful use of sexual body parts (for example, inserting items)
  4. Involve children of widely different ages or abilities (such as a 12-year-old “playing doctor” with a four-year-old)

  5. Are associated with strong emotional reactions in a child—such as anger or anxiety
  6. Interfere with typical childhood interests and activities

Some of the factors that have been linked to the development of sexual behavior problems include:

  1. Exposure to traumatic experiences, such as abuse, natural disasters, or accidents
  2. Exposure to violence in the home
  3. Excessive exposure to adult sexual activity or nudity in the home (including media exposure through television or the Internet)
  4. Inadequate rules about modesty or privacy in the home
  5. Inadequate supervision in the home

People may react more strongly to these problems because they are sexual in nature, but children with sexual behavior problems are much like children with other types of behavioral problems. It’s important to remember that the child may have behaved in an inappropriate way, but can learn proper behaviors. children with sexual behavior problems are — first and foremost — children.

Children who receive treatment for their sexual behavior problems rarely commit sexual offenses as adults. Highly effective evidence- based treatments, provided by specially trained therapists, are available to children with sexual behavior problems.

For more information, contact the National Center on the Sexual Behavior of Youth .