Many Young People Do Not Report Violence

Feb 2, 2011

Nearly 60 percent of children and youth ages 10 to 17 report that they have experienced crime, maltreatment, abuse by peers and siblings including bullying, sexual abuse, and indirect exposure to violence such as witnessing abuse. However, less than half of those who experienced violence said the incident was known to school officials, police or medical authorities. This is the primary finding from a new study conducted by the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Crimes against Children Research Center. It is based on a 2008 telephone survey of more than 4,500 children, as well as parents.


“Childhood/adolescent abuse is frequently described as a hidden problem, and victimization studies regularly have shown that much abuse goes undisclosed,” according to lead researcher David Finkelhor, director of the UNH Crimes against Children Research Center, and his co-authors.


The incidents that were known to authorities tended to be more serious – for instance, officials knew about 69 percent of cases of sexual abuse by a known adult, 73.5 percent of kidnappings and 70.1 percent of gang or group assaults. The incidents least frequently reported to authorities included peer and sibling assault, dating violence, sexual exposure and statutory rape.


School authorities were the more likely to be aware of victimizations than police or medical authorities. Researchers found this result “understandable given how much time children and adolescents spend in school and interact with school professionals” as well as the fact that some incidents may not require invention from police or doctors. 


The new research shows that young people are beginning to confide more in authorities. A comparable 1992 study found that 25 percent of cases of victimization among children age 10 to 16 years were known to authorities (compared with 50.6 percent among this age group in the current study).


“However, the study also shows that a considerable portion of childhood/adolescent exposure to victimization is still unknown to authorities,” according to the researchers. “The study suggests that outreach needs to be particularly enhanced toward boys, Hispanics and higher-income groups.”


Researchers conducted a national telephone survey of 4,549 children (interviews were conducted with children and teens age 10 to 17 and the parents of children up to nine years old) from January to May, 2008.  “School, Police, and Medical Authority Involvement With Children Who Have Experienced Victimization” was published in the January issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. It is co-authored by Richard Ormrod and Heather Turner, also with the UNH Crimes against Children Research Center, and Sherry Hamby of Sewanee: The University of the South.

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