Dr. Sherry Hamby: Study finds high rates of childhood exposure to violence and abuse in U.S.

The study was designed to obtain national estimates of exposure to the full spectrum of childhood violence, abuse, and crime victimizations. It was conducted by researchers at the Crimes against Children Research Center (CCRC) at the University of New Hampshire and the Department of Psychology at The University of the South.

The research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The research results are presented in the journal Pediatrics and a U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention bulletin titled “Children’s Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey.”

The study was conducted in 2008 and involved telephone interviews with caregivers and youth about the experiences of a nationally representative sample of 4,549 children aged 0 to 17 years. The authors are study director David Finkelhor, Professor of Sociology and Director of the CCRC; Heather Turner, Associate Professor of Sociology and Research Professor at CCRC; Richard Ormrod, Research Professor at CCRC; and Sherry Hamby, Research Associate Professor of Psychology at Sewanee.

“Children experience far more violence, abuse, and crime than do adults,” Finkelhor said. “If life were this dangerous for ordinary grown-ups, we’d never tolerate it.”

The researchers asked a national sample of U.S. children and their caregivers about a far broader range of exposures than has been done in the past.

According to the research, three out of five children were exposed to violence, abuse or a criminal victimization in the last year, including 46 percent who had been physically assaulted, 10 percent who had been maltreated by a caregiver, 6 percent who had been sexually victimized, and 10 percent who had witnessed an assault within their family.

In contrast with earlier studies, this study asked about all such exposures as well as additional ones that are rarely covered, such as dating violence and witnessing domestic violence.

“Researchers, and even providers, tend to focus on one particular form of victimization, such as parental neglect or school bullying, but our work shows that researchers have missed the fact that in many cases, we are studying the same kids and we should be doing more to identify the full burden of victimization faced by many youth,” Hamby said.