Who is affected by child abuse and neglect

In 2006, 3 million cases of child abuse or neglect were reported to Child Protective Services in the United States. About 905,000 of these cases were confirmed.1

Of the confirmed cases:1

  • More than 60% of children were neglected.
  • About 16% were physically abused.
  • Approximately 9% were sexually abused.
  • About 7% were psychologically abused.
  • An estimated 1,530 children died of abuse or neglect.

The true number of children who are abused or neglected is unknown. Many cases, especially those involving young children, are not recognized or reported. As a result, many abused or neglected children suffer in silence.

Children of all ages can be victims of any of these types of abuse. But children younger than age 3 are more likely to be physically abused and to suffer more serious injuries than older children. Of the approximately 1,490 children who died from abuse and neglect in 2004, more than 80% were younger than 4 years of age, about 12% were between 4 and 7 years of age, 4% were between 8 and 11 years of age, and 3% were between 12 and 17 years of age.1

In 2006, child abuse and neglect was perpetrated (carried out) by:1

  • One or both parents, in about 80% of cases. (A parent is defined as a birth parent, stepparent, or adoptive parent.) But more than 90% of these parents do not have criminal or psychotic personalities. Instead, these parents tend to be isolated and lonely, young, and unhappy or angry. Other contributing factors include having unplanned pregnancies spaced closely together, having little to no knowledge about child health and development, and having unrealistic expectations of how their children should behave.2
  • Other relatives, who were responsible for about 7% of cases.
  • Another person who is not the parent, in about 10% of cases.
  • Someone unknown or unidentified, in about 3% of cases.

But the profiles of perpetrators vary with each type of child abuse (physical, emotional, sexual) and child neglect. For example, of the perpetrators who were friends or neighbors, nearly 75% committed sexual abuse. Of parents who were perpetrators, less than 3% committed sexual abuse.1

Girls are slightly more likely to be abused or neglected than boys. The difference for boys and girls is bigger for sexual abuse. About 20% of adult women and 5% to 10% of adult men are estimated to report having been sexually abused before age 18.3


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth and Families (2008). Child Maltreatment 2006. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm06/index.htm.
  2. Johnson CF (2007). Abuse and neglect of children. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed., chap. 36, pp. 171-184. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
  3. Leventhal JM (2003). Child maltreatment: Neglect to abuse. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 21st ed., pp. 463–469. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Last Updated: December 29, 2008

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