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The Real-Life Facts About Child Abuse: It Happens More Than You Think

Lifestyle & Opinion

By Madeleine Latimer

Did you know in 2017 there were child abuse reports involving 7.5 million children in the United States? The majority of child abuse victims are children that are less than a year old. In this essay I will cover the statistics of child abuse cases in the United States, the long and short term effects on children that child abuse has (this may be multiple paragraphs), symptoms and causes of child abuse, the effects child abuse has on parents, the possible future for victims of child abuse, and where to go for help.

Reported Cases Per Year

Let’s break down the reported cases per year. Of reported cases, 79% are reported as neglect, 18.3% are reported as physical abuse, 8.6% are reported as sexual abuse, and 7.1% are reported as psychological maltreatment. Out of the 4.1 million child abuse cases reported in 2017, 3.2 million children received prevention and post-response care and 142,301 children went to foster care.

Death Rate

On average, five children a day die from child abuse. In 2017, the reported number of children who suffered fatalities from child abuse were 1,720. It is estimated that 50% to 60% of fatalities caused by child abuse were not recorded on death certificates. Of the fatalities due to child abuse, 75.4% of these children suffered from neglect and 41.6% of these children suffered from physical abuse. Of child abuse fatalities, 71.8% happen before the child is 3 years old, 49.6% are before the child is a year old, and 80.1% involve one parent. Boys have a higher fatality rate than girls do.

Sexual Abuse

When it comes to sexual abuse, about 65,000 children a year are sexually abused and more than 83% of those children know their abuser. Of those abusers, 80% were a parent, 6% were other relatives, 5% were marked as other, which could range from siblings to strangers, and 4% were unmarried partners of a parent. More than 83% of people who sexually abuse children are between the ages of 18 and 44. In 88% of child sexual abuse reports there is supporting evidence that the perpetrator is male. In 9% of cases they are female, and in 3% of cases they are unknown.

Main Types of Child Abuse

There are many main types of child abuse. The four main kinds are physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and emotional neglect. The symptoms of each are easy to see if you look and observe a child. The symptom of physical abuse is any injury that cannot be explained. This could be a bruise, burn, fracture or injury to their abdomen or head. The symptoms of sexual abuse are abdominal pain, bedwetting, urinary tract infection, genital pain or bleeding, sexually transmitted disease, extreme sexual behavior that seems inappropriate for age, and fearful behavior. This fearful behavior can include nightmares, depression, unusual fears, and attempts to run away. The symptoms of emotional abuse are sudden change in self-confidence, headaches or stomachaches with no medical cause, abnormal fears, increased nightmares, and attempts to run away. The symptoms of emotional neglect are having desperately affectionate behavior, stealing food or voracious appetite, and failure to gain weight. Failure to gain weight happens prominently in infants.

There are many causes as to why someone would abuse a child. These causes could include:

  • The child has disabilities
  • There is social isolation of the family
  • The parents lack of understanding children’s needs or child development
  • A parent’s history of domestic abuse
  • Poverty/other socioeconomic disadvantages
  • Family disorganization, dissolution, or violence
  • A lack of family cohesion
  • Having substance abuse in family
  • Parental thoughts/emotions supporting maltreatment behaviors
  • Community violence
  • Parental stress and distress

Possible Future

The possible future for victims of child abuse includes things they are more likely to do, as well as long-term and short-term psychological issues may happen. Things that possible victims of child abuse are more likely to do include a higher risk to engage in sexual risk-taking behaviors and a higher risk of substance abuse. Victims of child abuse are nine times more likely to be involved in criminal activity, 30% of abused children will abuse their own kids, 80% of 21-year-olds who had been abused met criteria for at least one psychological disorder, and 25% are more likely to experience teen pregnancy. In prison, 14% of all men were abused as children and 36% of all women were abused as children.

Long-Term Effects

Long-term effects of child abuse on a victim can include physical health consequences, psychological consequences, behavioral consequences, and societal consequences. The physical health consequences can include diabetes, lung disease, malnutrition, vision problems, functional limitations, heart attack, arthritis, back problems, high blood pressure, brain damage, migraine headaches, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, stroke, bowel disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Certain regions of the brain can fail to form properly as a result of child abuse and those parts of the brain include the amygdala, which is key in being able to process emotions, the hippocampus, which is central to learning and memory, the orbitofrontal cortex, which is responsible for reinforcement-based decision-making and emotion regulation, the cerebellum, which helps coordinate motor behavior and executive functioning, the corpus callosum, which is responsible for left brain/right brain communication and other processes. The psychological consequences can include lack of development in major functioning and cognitive skills, poor mental and emotional health, attachment and social difficulties, and posttraumatic stress. The behavioral consequences can include unhealthy sex practices, juvenile delinquency leading to adult criminality, abusing alcohol and other drug use, and future perpetration of maltreatment. The societal consequences can include issues on the individual level, the relationship level, and the community level. Issues on the individual social level can include a lack of a sense of purpose, a lack of a self-efficacy, a lack of self-regulation skills, a lack of relational skills, a lack of problem-solving skills, and a lack of involvement in positive activities. Issues on the relationship social level can include all of the issues in individual as well as a lack of parental competencies, a lack of positive peers, and a lack of parent well-being. Issues on the community social level can include issues in individual relationships, as well as a lack of a positive school environment, a lack of a stable living situation, and a lack of a positive community environment.

Short-Term Effects

Short-term effects of child abuse on a victim can include depression, oversexualized behavior, sexual dissatisfaction, promiscuity, forced homosexuality, high risk of revictimization, depression, and suicidal tendencies.


There are lots of resources for victims of child abuse. If the child abuse is ongoing, the recommended people to call are Child Protective Services and the police. Whichever one is called will most likely get the other service involved. If it does not seem like a safe option to openly call either of those services, there are anonymous online forms that can be filed to contact Child Protective Services or the child can reach out and tell their pediatrician or doctor. There are many ways that victims of child abuse can get help after they have been removed from their abusive situation. If they are attending school, a guidance counselor at the school can be there to help and some schools offer a counselor to help the student work through issues they are having. Mental health professionals are a great resource too. They can help someone work through their trauma so they do not end up with any long term psychological issues. Lots of child abuse trauma can be worked through in therapy and can teach someone how to cope with what has happened to them and not let it negatively affect their physical or mental health.

Header photo from


Akman, Donna, et al. “A Review of the Short-Term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse.” Elsevier, vol. 15, no. 4, 1991, pp. 537–556. ScienceDirect,

Child Welfare. “Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect.” Child Welfare,

“Child Abuse.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers,

“Child Abuse Statistics.” American SPCC,

“Children and Teens: Statistics.” RAINN,

Sharples, Tiffany. “Study: Most Child Abuse Goes Unreported.” Time, Time Inc., 2 Dec. 2008,,8599,1863650,00.html.


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