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Violence against kids comes out of the shadows

January 03, 2011|By Eryn Brown

Abuse of children and adolescents has often been described as a hidden problem.  For a number of reasons -- including fear of retaliation and other consequences among kids themselves, families' wishes to keep their business private and a belief that the authorities just don't care -- violent crimes against children are less likely to be reported than crimes against adults.

This remains the case, researchers said Monday in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. But there's good news too: Violent incidents are significantly more likely to get reported today than they were in 1992.  Almost half of U.S. youths who experience violence, abuse or crime have had at least one of their victimizations known to school, police or medical authorities, the paper reported.  

To learn about national trends in the degree to which crimes against children get reported, the team of sociologists and psychologists, based at the University of New Hampshire and at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., conducted a phone survey with 4,549 children between January 1, 2008, and May 31, 2008.  

In interviews lasting about 45 minutes, the researchers asked kids ages 10 to 17 and parents of kids ages 0 to 9 whether, in the last year, they had experienced any of five types of victimization: conventional crime, maltreatment, abuse by peers and siblings, sexual abuse or indirect exposure to violence, and whether authorities knew about the incident(s). 58.3% reported at least one direct victimization in the past year.  45.7 % of these children said that at least one such incident was known to authorities.  

Reporting just one incident -- even if others remain hidden -- could make a big difference for kids.  Knowing about a single victimization gives authorities the chance to inquire about other events and intervene, the authors wrote.  Early disclosure is believed to facilitate prevention, they said.

The events authorities knew about tended to be the more serious ones. Kids and families were less likely to tell police, doctors or school officials about incidents of dating violence, peer and sibling assault or incidents within families.  In general, schools were far more likely to know about violent incidents than police or medical authorities were.  

The findings represented an improvement over survey results collected in 1992, the researchers wrote.  But they stressed that "a considerable portion of childhood/adolescent exposure to victimization is still unknown to authorities."  They called for increased outreach for boys, Hispanics and higher-income groups -- all of whom underreported violent incidents.

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