Child Abuse Facts

Child abuse can have damaging effects not only on the children who suffer it, but on communities that must address the aftermath of abuse. Learn the facts about child abuse and how you can help children in need.


Which children are most likely to suffer abuse or neglect?

1 in 10 children suffer from child maltreatment. 1 in 16 children suffer from sexual abuse. Nearly 1 in 10 children are witnesses to family violence.

The youngest children are the most vulnerable to maltreatment. Over 25% of abused children are under the age of three while over 45% of abused children are under the age of five. 

Number of children in the United States who died because of abuse or neglect in 2012: 1,593

Of the number of children who died because of abuse or neglect...

  • 70.3% were younger than three years of age
  • 44.4% were younger than one year of age

While boys and girls are equally as likely to be victims of abuse and neglect (in 2012, 48.5% of abused children were boys while 51.2% of abused children were girls); the rate of child fatality is higher for boys (in 2012, 57.6% of child fatalities due to abuse and neglect were boys).  

More than 85% of the child fatalities in 2012 were white children. However, when comparing the number of child fatalities to the population data, Pacific Islander and African-American children had the highest rates of child fatalities (4.69 and 4.67 per 100,000 Pacific Islander and African-American children).  

In over 20% of the child fatalities that occurred in 2012, the child was exposed to domestic violence in the home.

How many reports of child abuse are made?

Number of reports of child abuse every year in the United States: 2.9 million

Who reports child abuse?

Girl with teddyReports that came from teachers, law enforcement or legal representatives, or social service providers: 60% (teachers 17%; law enforcement 17%; social service 11%).

Who is most likely to abuse or neglect children?

Of child abuse cases in 2012, in over 80% of the cases the parent was the perpetrator.  

In 2012, more than four-fifths (82.2%) of perpetrators were between the ages of 18 and 44 years while two-fifths (39.6%%) of perpetrators were in the 25-34 age group.  

Of the 2012 child abuse cases, 45.3% of the perpetrators were male and 53.5% were female.

What can happen to children who are abused or neglected?

As children 

Babies who are victims of shaken baby syndrome can suffer bleeding in the eye or brain; damage to the spinal cord and neck; rib and bone fractures. One in every four victims of shaken baby syndrome dies, and nearly all victims experience serious health consequences. Child physical abuse can result in the malformation of the brain, resulting in impaired mental development and lack of growth in vital areas.

Child abuse victims as young as three years of age have shown signs of depression and withdrawal symptoms.

Child abuse victims are more likely to exhibit anti-social behaviors, including borderline personality disorders and violent behavior.

Child abuse victims placed in foster or kinship care because of abuse or neglect were found to score lower than other students in tests of cognitive capacity, language development, and academic achievement.

Child abuse and maltreatment can have a multitude of long-term effects on physical health.  Research has found that during the following three years after the maltreatment investigation, 28% of abused and neglected children had a chronic health condition.  

Nearly half of the infants in foster care who have experienced maltreatment exhibit some form of cognitive delay and have lower IQ scores, language difficulties, and neonatal challenges compared to children who have not been abused or neglected.   

As teenagers

Prison interior stock

Abused children are 25% more likely to experience teen pregnancy.  

In a study of young adults who suffered child abuse or neglect, 80% met criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder by age 21, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts.

In a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study of homeless youth, it found that 46% of those surveyed had escaped a home where they suffered physical abuse, and 17% left because of sexual abuse.

Children who experience child abuse and neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28% more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30% more likely to commit violence crime.

As adults 

Adults who suffered child abuse and neglect can develop allergies, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, high blood pressure, and ulcers, in addition to other physical disabilities because of poor health caused by the abuse.

Child abuse and neglect have been associated with panic and dissociative disorders, attention deficit and/or hyperactivity disorder, depression, anger, and post-traumatic stress disorder in children and in adults who suffered abuse.

Adults who were abused or neglected as children are more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs during their lifetimes. A study found that as many as two-thirds of individuals in drug treatment programs reported being abused as children.

Continuing the cycle of abuse

Researchers estimate that one-third of abused and neglected children will grow up to abuse their own children when they become parents.

How much can child abuse cost?

Uploaded Image: /uploads/images/ChildAbuse_FactsStats_BoyBookbag.jpg$124 billion: Estimated minimum annual cost of child abuse to U.S. communities to provide

  • Healthcare to treat mental illnesses, substance abuse, mental and physical disabilities, and other health-related issues
  • Child welfare and protection
  • Law enforcement and court systems allocation to handle juvenile and adult criminal cases
  • Special education costs
  • Unemployment and underemployment services and benefits

TAKE ACTION: Help save young lives and young futures 

Recognize the Signs: Safe Horizon's 10 Signs of Child Abuse (HTML or PDF version) can help you learn to recognize when a child is being abused.

Report child abuse: Find out how to report a case of child abuse in your state.

Help a child in crisis: Safe Horizon's Child Advocacy Centers provide healing, hope, and justice to more than 4,000 children each year. Be part of our efforts to give child victims of abuse comfort.

Return to our Child Abuse page.


Get informed. Get more facts and statistics about child abuse and neglect.

Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics: How much money does the United States spend on public elementary and secondary schools?

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The Economic Burden of Child Maltreatment in the United States and Implications for Prevention.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families, Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation: National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), 1997-2010 

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families: 2010 Child Maltreatment Report.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families: Long Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect.

U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health: The Relationship Between Childhood Sexual Abuse and Sexual Health Practices of Homeless Adolescents (Johnson, Rew, Sternglanz, 2006)

U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse: Exploring the Role of Child Abuse in Later Drug Abuse (Swan, 1998)

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