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Study Shows Child Abuse in High Income Countries Grossly Underreported - Professor Widom’s Findings Featured in The Lancet’s Series on Child Maltreatment

New York, NY, December 4, 2008 – Child maltreatment is far more common than suggested by official statistics of child protective agencies, according to “Burden and Consequences of Child Maltreatment in High Income Countries,” a recent paper co-authored  by Cathy Spatz Widom, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at John Jay College with Ruth Gilbert, Professor at the Evidence-based Child Health and MRC Centre of Epidemiology for Child Health, University College London Institute of Child Health, UK, and colleagues.  This research, recently published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, was part of their series on Child Maltreatment.

The researchers found that child maltreatment remains a major public-health and social-welfare problem in high-income countries. Every year, about 4–16% of children are physically abused and one in ten is neglected or psychologically abused. During childhood, between 5% and 10% of girls and up to 5% of boys are exposed to penetrative sexual abuse, and up to three times this number are exposed to any type of sexual abuse. However, official rates for substantiated child maltreatment indicate less than a tenth of this burden. Exposure to multiple types and repeated episodes of maltreatment is associated with increased risks of severe maltreatment and psychological consequences. Child maltreatment substantially contributes to child mortality and morbidity and has long-lasting effects on mental health, drug and alcohol misuse (especially in girls), risky sexual behavior, obesity, and criminal behavior, which persist into adulthood. Neglect is at least as damaging as physical or sexual abuse in the long term but has received the least scientific and public attention. The high burden and serious and long-term consequences of child maltreatment warrant increased investment in preventive and therapeutic strategies from early childhood.

The authors conclude, “Child maltreatment is common, and for many it is a chronic condition, with repeated and ongoing maltreatment merging into adverse outcomes throughout childhood and into adulthood...More attention needs to be given to neglected children. There is mounting evidence that the consequences of childhood neglect can be as damaging—or perhaps even more damaging—to a child than physical or sexual abuse.”

For the full paper,  click here.

The Lancet is one of the world's leading medical journals. Established in 1823, the journal has been, first and foremost, a reformist medical newspaper known for its campaigns, for example, our focus on child survival in recent years. The Lancet was, and remains, independent, without affiliation to a medical or scientific organization.

Established in 1964, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York is an international leader in educating for justice. It offers a rich liberal arts and professional studies curriculum to upwards of 14,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 135 nations. In teaching and research, the College approaches justice as an applied art in service to society and as an ongoing conversation about fundamental human desires for fairness, equality and the rule of law.