Physical Abuse

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Typically thought of as a child welfare problem, the physical abuse of children is also a crime and therefore a law enforcement problem. Unfortunately, the law enforcement perspective on child abuse has been neglected.

Most statistics on child abuse come from the child welfare agencies and solely reflect activity within their sphere. The percentage of cases reported to the police by child welfare agencies is not even recorded.

Recently, however, the National Incidence-Based Reporting System has allowed researchers to access much more information about crime and its victims. This system has begun to allow an analysis of the incidents coming to the police of assaults against children by parents or caretakers - what is typically thought of as child abuse. Among the findings from an analysis of data from 12 states from 1997 are the following:

  • Incidents of child abuse committed by parents and other caretakers make up 19% of violent crimes against juveniles (0-17) reported to police and 4% of violent crimes against persons of any age.
  • Seventy-three percent of these parent and caretaker crimes are physical assaults, while 23% are sexual assaults.
  • Child abuse constitutes more than one-half of the crimes against children aged 2 or younger reported to the police.

Source: Dick Ormrod & David Finkelhor (2001). Child Abuse Reported to Police. Juvenile Justice Bulletin – NCJ187238 (pgs. 1-8).