Child Victimization on the Decline

You may not know it from looking at the news, but the rates of many forms of child maltreatment and victimization may actually be falling.

A recent study from JAMA Pediatrics documents the rate youth victimization from 2003 to 2011. Random telephone surveys (those annoying phone calls we often get and ignore) were conducted in 2003, 2008, and 2011 among 2,030, 4,046, and 4,107 households, respectively.  A strength of the study was that the same questionnaire was used at all time periods. This instrument queried a number of child maltreatment domains such events of abuse, violence, or other Family shotforms of victimization that occurred in the past year. The researchers were interested in changes in victimization rates from 2003 to 2011 and also probed the 2008-2011 interval which included the most recent economic recession. For younger children, a parent was interviewed while for older kids, the child was interviewed directly.

Results revealed that the rate of victimization significantly dropped from 2003 to 2011 for slightly over half of the variables studied, including things such as bullying, assault victimization, sexual victimization.  Also falling were rates of violence and property crime that the youth questioned perpetrated on others. The overall rate of child maltreatment during this period dropped by 26 percent. Declines were also observed for the period between 2008 and 2011, although these were not as pronounced. For no variables did the rate significantly increase. Furthermore, most of the observed trends were widespread and did not pertain just to certain groups based on age, gender, or other demographic variables.

While one can conclude only so much from a telephone survey study, the results are consistent with several others that document that many indices of child mental health are improving, despite headlines to the contrary. While the authors could not determine why these rates are declining, some potential candidates were mentioned. One of them was the presence of direct efforts on the part of many organizations to reduce child victimization. Also mentioned by the authors is the frequently maligned increase of psychiatric treatment that has occurred over the past couple of decades as people recognize that some of the bullies and parents and other individuals who are at risk of harming children meet criteria for psychiatric illness and aren’t “just” being bad.  The authors even speculated that increased use of electronics might be decreasing overall negative face to face encounters in addition to providing a quick route to alert other people when they occur.

Obviously these data shouldn’t cause us to slow our pace against the prevention of adverse child events that continue to exact huge tolls on our kids.  However, these numbers are encouraging and need to be given the same media attention as many of the negative headlines that predominate the media.


Finkelhor D, et al., Trends in Children’s Exposure to Violence, 2003 to 2011.  JAMA Pediatrics 2014;168(6):540-546

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.