Demographics of Child Abuse

A survey of the professional literature shows that the three main types of abuse most commonly researched are physical abuse and, to a lesser extent, neglect and the trauma of children who have witnessed violence against their parents.1) According to the professional literature, child abuse in the United States exhibits definite demographic patterns:

Although a home with biological parents who are married cannot guarantee that a child will be safe and happy, the evidence suggests that it represents the safest of all environments for children; at the same time–and in sharp contrast–the evidence also suggests that a home with adults who decide not to marry and to live together out of wedlock represents the most dangerous environment of all for children.

1) Physical abuse in the NIS-4 study includes such activities as punching, kicking, throwing, burning, stabbing, and choking. Sexual abuse includes such things as penile penetration of the oral, anal, or genital organs. Neglect includes physical neglect (failing to keep the child clean, fed, and warm); educational neglect; medical neglect; and emotional neglect, which frequently is coupled with witnessing violence between parents.
2) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4): Report to Congress, A.J. Sedlak, J. Mettenburg, M. Basena, I. Petta, K. McPherson, A. Greene, and S. Li. (Washington, D.C., January 2010). Available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/nis4_report_congress_full_pdf_jan2010.pdf. (Accessed August 24, 2015
3) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4): Report to Congress, A.J. Sedlak, J. Mettenburg, M. Basena, I. Petta, K. McPherson, A. Greene, and S. Li., (Washington, D.C., January 2010). Available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/nis4_report_congress_full_pdf_jan2010.pdf.
4) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4): Report to Congress, A.J. Sedlak, J. Mettenburg, M. Basena, I. Petta, K. McPherson, A. Greene, and S. Li. (Washington, D.C., January 2010). Available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/nis4_report_congress_full_pdf_jan2010.pdf.
5) D. Alessio, Stewart J., PhD and L. Stolzenberg PhD, “Stepchildren, Community Disadvantage, and Physical Injury in a Child Abuse Incident: A Preliminary Investigation,” Violence and Victims 27, no. 6 (2012): 860-70.
6) Patrick F. Fagan, “Rising Illegitimacy: America's Social Catastrophe,” Heritage Foundation F.Y.I. No. 19, (1994).
Patrick F. Fagan, “The Real Root Causes of Violent Crime: The Breakdown of Marriage, Family, and Community,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder no. 1026, March 17, 1995.


This entry draws heavily from The Child Abuse Crisis: The Disintegration of Marriage, Family, and the American Community.